Metro workers and Overtime

Metro employee overtime (OT) is in the news again.  Greater Greater Washington (GGW) mentioned this last Monday which led to this reply from ATU Local 689 president Jackie Jeter.

I’ve written about this issue before — here and here:

Quote:

“The truth is that most businesses (including Metro) actually _save_ money by paying OT because doing so enables them to get by with fewer employees. Each new employee costs WMATA about double what their salary is when the pension, health & welfare benefits, Workers’ Comp, vacation time, sick days, Social Security, etc, are included. Therefore, it is more cost effective for Metro to pay existing employees OT.  Of course WMATA management knows that but they are cynically trying to blame their budget problems on the ‘greedy workers’. Metro would have the public believe that the union — ATU Local 689 — controls the amount of OT when of course it’s management that determines staffing requirements and has the ability to hire additional employees to reduce OT if they really want to.”

“The fact is that no one at Metro really wants to reduce or eliminate OT — not management, and certainly not the union. In fact, sadly, many employees come to rely on OT just to pay their bills. OT in Automatic Train Control (ATC) has been somewhat cyclical over the years. When there wasn’t enough to go around (for some employees there’s _never_ enough) people would start to squabble and fight over it. Some would go so far as to break into a field office (F/O) and alter the OT ledger so that it would appear as though they hadn’t received as many assignments as their coworkers! Last I knew, the OT ledger was actually being kept in a _safe_ at the New York Avenue F/O in an attempt to prevent tampering!”

“There is a serious dark side to OT that is rarely discussed — sleep deprivation and accidents. The DOT restricts truck and bus drivers to 10 or 11 hours behind the wheel.  Metro allows employees to work double shifts — 16 hours straight — in any 24 hour period. That means that there are many employees who are working 16 hours a day, sometimes for days in a row. Some do this week after week. Needless to say, 8 hours off does not equal 8 hours of sleep. Many employees live 40 minutes to an hour or more from their reporting location. Between their commute, eating, showering, etc, they may only be getting 4 or 5 hours sleep — night after night.”

“The problem is, many people just do not know when to stop and take a break.  They are similar to an alcoholic with booze or a drug addict with drugs.  They act as if WMATA is giving away money.  Even if they do realize that they’re tired and need to get some sleep, the system [ATC] management has set up (one decline and they’re ‘off the list’) means they often accept OT when they otherwise would not. Also, since OT is counted toward the employee’s ‘high four’ years for purposes of the pension calculation, people working on their high four have a very strong incentive to work as much OT as they possibly can.

I don’t know what the solution is. Maybe 12 hour shifts. ATC actually switched to 12 hour shifts (either a 12 hour OT assignment on the employee’s day off or 8 hours regular shift + 4 hours OT) a few months ago but that only lasted a few weeks. The dept went back to 16 on, 8 off. Maybe restricting the 16 hour double shifts to every other day would help. One thing’s for sure, if Metro and Local 689 _truly_ care about the safety of employees and passengers they will agree to restrict the amount of OT employees can work to something more reasonable.”

“We don’t allow people to work if they are drunk or on drugs (even many prescription drugs).  Why do we allow them to work while seriously sleep deprived?”

From the Enquirer article:

“Matt Bassett, chairman of the Tri-State Oversight Committee that oversees Metro, was surprised by the high rates of overtime and said they raise questions about safety.

“In general, we want them to be staffing the system with sufficient workers so that they don’t have to rely too heavily on overtime for any particular position to allow for appropriate rest and time off,”…”

Hopefully, the TOC is serious about this and will be able to convince Metro, which of course can (and often does) simply ignore the TOC, NTSB, FRA, OSHA, EPA, etc.

There is something else that wasn’t mentioned in the Enquirer article.  The author, Kytja Weir said:

“The inspector who worked the most time-and-a-half overtime makes $38.65 an hour for his normal workload, but earns approximately $58 for every extra hour of overtime. Working regular hours, he would have earned $10,725 in that two-month period. But by working 553.5 extra hours, on top of his 277.5 regular hours, he took home just under four times more: $42,814 in two months.”

What isn’t mentioned is that in any week the seventh (7th) work day is paid at double-time rate.  So if this inspector was allowed (by Metro management) to work seven days a week for two (2) months or about nine (9) weeks, he/she worked nine (9) days for which he/she was paid 32 hours @ $38.65/hour or  about $1,237 — for ONE DAY (albeit a very long day).

For more, including one example of a narrowly averted potential disaster caused by execessive OT leading to sleep deprivation, see my previous post about this subject.

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