Those Pesky Union Work Rules

Over on Greater Greater Washington (GGW) one of the commenters, Stephen Smith, posted a link to an article he wrote titled, “Five union work rules that harm transit productivity”.  They may all apply to some transit properties but only a few apply to Metro.

I wrote the following reply which I thought was worth posting here as well:

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Stephen,
Although there are abuses by both management and the union, very little of the “Five union work rules that harm transit productivity” you linked to apply to Metro.
What I read that _is_ true/does apply is the following:
1) “In the case of DC’s Metro employees, pensions are calculated based on the highest four years of income, which gives workers incentives to wrack up tons of overtime in order to boost their (already very generous) pensions.”
I would not describe Metro pensions as “generous” however. After working 27 years, an employee will receive about 50% (27 years x 1.85%) of the average of their “high four”. Many cannot work OT, or it isn’t available very often in their dept, so that means their pension will be 1/2 of their base salary. After deductions that is typically under $30K per year. Not exactly living large.
2) “Cross-utilization of labor not allowed.”
True, but while it sounds more efficient in practice to allow (say) maintenance workers to operate a train when they aren’t busy, that reasoning neglects to consider what would happen if/when there are sudden failures that need to be addressed and all (or most) of the mechanics and techs are out on the line operating trains (which are now stuck because of the aforementioned problem(s). We might as well suggest that firemen be told to drive sanitation trucks when there are no fires.
Actually, in ATC we did clean the Train Control Rooms (TCRs) during our down time — freeing up the custodians to do other work.
3) “Seniority. Unions are run on seniority, and people who have been with the union longer often get to pick what work they do.”
This is true, and as it should be.
The ‘comment’ says, in part:
“Easier work assignments are frequently considered a “perk” of seniority. In the (nonunion) private sector one frequently observes the reverse – more experience and skill (and more pay) implies more difficult assignments.”
This is not an appropriate comparison because generally, once an employee reaches the top level (above which they transition to management) their pay has topped out. IOW, ‘more experience and skill’ does not = more pay — not at Metro anyway. All “Top Operators” and ‘AA’ mechanics get the same base pay (respectively), regardless of seniority. In fact, there are many techs and mechanics in the lower “grades” (A/B/C/D or Helper) that have more experience and/or skill than some of the ‘AA’ techs but are paid _less_. They have chosen to remain in a lower grade with less pay to get a better ‘pick’ (work location, hours/shift, and/or days off) because the Maintenance & Construct (M&C) pick is done by “seniority within grade” and not by straight seniority. This creates a perverse incentive to stay put in a lower grade.
Finally, there is this:
“The “pick” system lets the most experienced employees choose which escalators they work on (or at least the general area), and they often pick the stations whose escalators are in least need of repair, leaving the really bad escalators to the less-experienced workers.”
This is simply not true. Yes, employees pick their work location according to seniority, but _management_ is responsible for job assignments. For example, an Elevator/Escalator (ELES) mechanic might pick Shady Grove (if that is an available work location) and report for duty there, but their supervisor could send them anywhere to work for the day — as long as they are back at Shady by the end of their shift there’s nothing they can say.
What simply does _not_ apply:
1) “Mandatory eight-hour workdays and no part-time hiring.”
2) “Tons of time off and little-to-no advanced notice required.”
When employees are first hired they have zero time off, none. No sick time, no vacation time. Sick time is earned at a rate of 12 days per year and vacation is allocated as follows:
1 week after 1 year
2 weeks after 2 years
3 weeks after 5 years
4 weeks after 10 years
5 weeks after 15 years
Oh, and a whole extra day (26 total) after 20 years.
Not bad but not exactly “tons of time off”.
Vacation must be scheduled once every year during the “vacation pick” — so it is scheduled weeks or months in advance.
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