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A D.C. Metro Track Inspector Was Fired for Filing False Reports. The Union Just Got His Job Back.

But wait, it's even worse than that.

JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS/NewscomJOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS/NewscomA track inspector fired by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority after getting caught falsifying track inspection reports could soon be back on the job.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 went to bat for Christopher Bell after he was fired in 2016 (along with several other inspectors) for faking track reports. An arbitration agreement reached this week would see Bell reinstated to his job with back pay and benefits, according to D.C. area television station WTOP, which first reported the deal on Tuesday.

But this isn't the typical story of public sector unions fighting to keep government workers from being fired for incompetence or downright awful performance. According to the arbitration report, Bell was bad at his job because the people who were supposed to be supervising him were actually even worse at theirs.

There was a "significant disconnect" between the standards for track inspections and the "actual practices" widely used by D.C. Metro track workers, according to the arbitration agreement.

Among other things, track inspections are supposed to check the gaps between rail segments, measuring incremental shifts that occur as hundreds of trains roll along them each month. Bell and the other track inspectors were fired in 2016 after it was discovered that they had copied the same numbers for the same locations for weeks and months at a time.

But when the WMATA claimed Bell and other track inspectors were falsifying reports, they were merely doing inspections "just the way that they were taught to do it," Raymond Jackson, an ATU union official, told WTOP.

Both the Federal Transit Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board came to similar conclusions: that the fired inspectors had never been properly trained and were not given enough time to do the inspections.

Regardless of who is to blame, it's clear that Metro has a track record of poor track inspections, which can have disastrous consequences. A cracked rail was blamed for the January derailment of a Red Line train near the Farragut North station in downtown Washington.

All of which leaves Metro riders with two bad possibilities: Either this is is a case of a public sector union fighting to get incompetent workers back on the job—a job that is directly connected to the safety of Metro riders—or it's another sign that WMATA is horribly mismanaged to the point where officials are scapegoating employees they themselves failed to properly train.

Regardless, the report seems to indicate you'd be expecting too much if you expect the D.C. Metro to have accurate track inspections completed by competent employees overseen by thorough managers.

Photo Credit: JOSHUA ROBERTS/REUTERS/Newscom

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  • Libertymike||

    Just goes to show you how unionism de-rails competence.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    No one checked for gaps in their training.

  • Eddy||

    I'm confused. Who are these arbitrators making decisions about government employment policy - are the arbitrators part of the legislative, executive, or judiciary branches of the government?

  • Jalene||

    Generally, arbitrators are independent individuals that are selected by and agreed upon by both the employer and the union to arbitrate grievances in respect of the employment contract. Arbitrators often have a legal background, but not always. Their decisions have to be made in accordance with the terms in the contract and from previous precedents set in earlier decisions. As is often the case, if management fails to follow the rules and terms in the contract (rules that management agreed to follow), then the arbitrator is likely to award a settlement in favor of the employee/union, even if the employee was incompetent.

  • Just the Tip||

    You must be new here. The correct answer is "Hitler".

  • Jalene||

    Oh! Bugger... I'll remember that for next time. LOL

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Close, probably "Hitler?"

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    But the question would be "you know who else just wanted the trains to run on time?"

  • Rat on a train||

    Sid Meier?

  • Just the Tip||

    In all seriousness, I think Eddy is pointing out the unintended consequences (or intended, if you're a cynic) of public sector unions.

  • Jalene||

    Yeah, that may be Eddy's point. I dunno. I share everyone's frustration when a union protects bad employees from being fired. Unions also protect good employees from being fired at the whim of petty, spiteful management. I can get on board with that aspect of protection, because I have witnessed management going after good, competent, hard-working employees simply because they didn't like them for personal reasons having nothing to do with performance. Whatever the consequences may be, it is still important to remember that employer (government or private) agreed to abide by the terms in the contract. I'm pretty sure that holding those accountable to their agreements (however awful they may seem) conforms to even the strictest of libertarian views. Perhaps less focus on union-busting and more focus on having more palatable contracts is the way forward. Just a thought, really.

  • Eddy||

    Follow-up: I was talking specifically about "government employment policy" - which supposedly should be made by Congress, executed by the executive, subject to judicial review if there's any violation of rights.

    "Management" in this case is the public, and "management agreed to the silly contract!" is another way to say "bureaucrats sold out the public it's supposed to represent."

  • Jalene||

    Oh. Is the point where I'm supposed to say "Hitler," JustTheTip? (Kidding)

    I think all federal organizations abide by the same employment policy as set out by the executive by way of executive orders, if I recall properly. Most federal organizations function independently, as set out by the legislative branch, but all are overseen by the legislative branch and executive branch, both of which appoint the leadership in those federal organizations. Further appointments are delegated down the chain. When certain conflicts arise, the judicial branch attempts to resolve them, including and up to the supreme court. So ultimately, by your description, things are happening precisely as you prefer, just not with the results you'd like to see. The public defers it authority to those whom it elects to act on its behalf. Vote for better representatives.

  • Number 2||

    "All of which leaves Metro riders with two bad possibilities: Either this is is a case of a public sector union fighting to get incompetent workers back on the job—a job that is directly connected to the safety of Metro riders—or it's another sign that WMATA is horribly mismanaged to the point where officials are scapegoating employees they themselves failed to properly train."

    Why not a third possibility: it's both.

  • Cyto||

    That is exactly what I was going to say.

    Failing to train incompetent workers is pretty awful. And if it was a private company, senior management would..

    ah, who am I kidding. If it was a private company they would have gone out of business.

    It is like they say, a fish rots from the head down. But in this case, you are tossing a fish onto a pile of rotting garbage and expecting it to stay fresh. It ain't gonna happen. The incentives are all wrong.

  • Idle Hands||

    lol. these type of arguments always remind me of this: https://youtu.be/6PYb_anBMus

  • Number 2||

    "Is falsifying track inspection reports prohibited? If I had only known that falsifying safety records was frowned upon in this establishment, I never would have done it!"

  • sarcasmic||

    Good enough for government work.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    Well, until the train derails...

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Even then, as long as no government Top. Men. were on the train I don't think they really care. It's just a few proles, plenty more where they came from.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    I keep forgetting; could somebody tell me again the difference between a public sector union and a criminal conspiracy?

  • SRoach||

    The first is done in plain sight, and doesn't want competition from the second?

  • creech||

    Just another case of the wrong Top.Men.

  • DaveSs||

    Bell and the other track inspectors were fired in 2016 after it was discovered that they had copied the same numbers for the same locations for weeks and months at a time.

    they were merely doing inspections "just the way that they were taught to do it,"

    I've never been employed in any sort of inspection role, but if my training and instructions for inspecting something included 'copy previous values without actually measuring or inspecting anything' that would suggest to me that something is not on the up and up, and that reporting this to the ombudsman, IG, or media would be in order.

    Then again I'm not a government employee so independent thinking, and taking initiative to get ahead of problems is encouraged.

  • Bubba Jones||

    You would never be hired for that job...

  • Number 2||

    Forgive my sarcasm, but "I wasn't trained" is the excuse of choice for public employees accused of wrongdoing.

    I am preparing to prosecute termination charges against a police officer who was caught on video using pepper spray against a civilian who was standing in a holding cell, minding his own business. The officer"s defense? "I was never trained that this was an inappropriate use!"

    Another case: a corrections captain on the night shift was harassing a female subordinate. Much of this occurred in front of the Deputy Chief in charge of the shift. When asked at deposition why he had done nothing to stop the misconduct, the Deputy Chief answered that he had "never been trained" in how to respond to a situation like that. No one bothered to ask him what type of training he thought he would need in order to know that he should have intervened.

    Another case: a police officer was involved in an accident using a pursuit technique that New Jersey law specifically prohibits. After claiming that "everybody does pursuits this way," and forcing the police department to play five years worth of video recordings of pursuits for the hearing officer to refute that defense, the officer in question then argued that he had "never been trained" not to use the illegal technique. The department then produced years of training records to refute him. Suffice it to say the officer was fired, but it took over 40 days of hearing to attain that result.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    I am preparing to prosecute termination charges against a police officer who was caught on video using pepper spray against a civilian who was standing in a holding cell, minding his own business. The officer"s defense? "I was never trained that this was an inappropriate use!"

    AKA the George Costanza defense.

  • Cyto||

    Before getting to your third paragraph, I was gonna call BS on the Deputy Chief who says he was never trained on how to respond to a situation where a female employee is being harassed.

    There are not many jobs in the United States that have not required sitting through sexual harassment training since at least the late 80's. Any company big enough to have an HR department is going to have sexual harassment training. That stuff ain't new.

    And public employees get 10x the amount of newthink training as the ordinary schlub. They probably have to sit through "plastic awareness" training.

  • CDRSchafer||

    Ask any high government official or media member what they think of public transportation ("It's great"!).

    Because they never, ever take it. Now or in their lives. Real people take it because it's the least bad option, between choking traffic and the high cost of parking. Real people want to be in a comfy car away from the public.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    And while they never have to use it, they DO get to attend gala ribbon-cuttings. Also, light rail, by reason of its inflexibility, tends to nail down the public's messy tendency to shift the focus of whole neighborhoods, to the frustration of city-planning fascists.

  • Marcus Aurelius||

    Would love to get a Bernie Sanders hot take on this.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Bell was bad at his job because the people who were supposed to be supervising him were actually even worse at theirs.

    I've felt his pain. I can't remember the last job where I had a manager that wasn't a clueless buffoon.

  • ||

    Drivin' that train
    High on cocaine
    Casey Jones you'd better
    Check that gap
    Trouble ahead
    Trouble behind
    Ain't been no inspections
    And that rail just cracked.

  • Agammamon||

    All of which leaves Metro riders with two bad possibilities: Either this is is a case of a public sector union fighting to get incompetent workers back on the job—a job that is directly connected to the safety of Metro riders—or it's another sign that WMATA is horribly mismanaged to the point where officials are scapegoating employees they themselves failed to properly train.

    Its not a choice. Its pretty obvious that its both.

  • Agammamon||

    Oh, and the 'failed to properly train' - no, you're giving them more credit than they deserve. No one. NO ONE. No one doing an inspection job could possibly, without one lick of training, ever think that 'fill in the numbers from the previous inspection' was anything other than falsifying the inspection.

    Those who did that did that knowing they were falsifying the inspection - no matter how many times their supervisor told them it was ok or 'that's the way you do it'.

  • Anteyematter||

    Former track inspector here (not DC Metro). I'm curious about federal review of this inspector. The FRA makes regular traversal of the track in question and they also review the inspector's reports to ensure that actual track conditions are being properly reported. I would not be able to access the information, but a person with journalism credentials may have a chance...

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