DC: Metro, Unions Expected to Tangle Over OT Limits

Proposed new limits on how much Metro employees can work will likely become a key sticking point in contentious contract negotiations with the agencys largest union in the coming months, after a report found long days leading to fatigue.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 contract expires by theof June, with initial talks on the new one expected to begin as early as January. Negotiations between Metro and the union were already expected to be tense, after the agency lost a court battle this year over wage increases.

Now, Metro officials have said they plan to rely on a study released last week by the Tri-State Oversight Committee on worker fatigue as leverage in the upcoming negotiations for the new contract. This report is really important, Metros second in command, Dave Kubicek, told board members Thursday.

But ATU Local 689 President Jackie Jeter has already staked her ground with a letter to Metro officials. Theyre not concerned about fatigue, Jeter told The Washington Examiner. Theyre just concerned about it when a scathing report comes out.

The key issues highlighted in the report are how many hours employees can work in a single day and how many days in a row they can log without a day off.

Train and bus operators currently must get eight hours off every 24 hours, meaning no more than a 16-hour workday. Other workers have no official limits. The report found that some employees occasionally work 16 hours or more in a day, as The Washington Examiner first reported in May.

The transit agency now says it is planning to phase in a 14-hour limit by April 2014.

Additionally, the report found that some workers are logging shift after shift without a day off. There are no limits on how many days employees can work. Board members told the agency such practices need tofor the safety of the workers and riders.

Thats negotiable, Jeter said. They have to come to us and negotiate it at theof the day.

The seventh consecutive day of work within a calendar week is a valuable one that translates to double time for ATU Local 689 members, more than the usual 1.5 rate of overtime and twice their normal hourly rate. Jeter and the union also have precedent on their side. In 2009, Metro lost a fight over five track employees seeking to work seven days in a row. The agency had argued that a seventh day would result in employees working 12 days in a row with no rest, a potential safety hazard.

But the arbitrator ruled that the agency had to pick employees for overtime shifts based on seniority and couldnt skip someone just because the shift would be a seventh consecutive day of work.

Jeter added that the transit agency is the one who sets the hours for the long shifts, not the workers. The union has repeatedly offered suggestions on how to restructure overtime shifts, she said, but the agency has ignored them.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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