Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld told the board of directors Thursday almost two dozen employees from the transit agency’s track inspection department have been fired in connection with a probe of falsified inspection records.
Wiedefeld, who said last month that six people had been terminated as result of the investigation, announced Thursday that disciplinary actions have now been taken against a total of 35 employees, 21 of whom were fired. Five of those terminated were supervisors.
The investigation was sparked by August’s East Falls Church derailment in Northern Virginia, but Wiedefeld acknowledged Thursday that the terminations were unconnected to that particular case. However, he maintained the firings were indicative of a systemic problem in the 60-member track inspection department.
He declined to comment specifically on how often and to what extent, but said the agency has completed its investigation.
“When you look at the action we took, it wore more on the management side than the front-line side,” he said. “There’s a whole personnel process we go through. That has to play out.”
One way to improve the department will be instituting a new standard manual and a 10-week training course for workers this year, Wiedefeld said.
Raymond Jackson, second vice president with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, said there is an ongoing investigation into whether the 16 union workers were justly fired.
He said the union has requested information from Metro regarding the terminations, but has yet to receive it.
When asked by a reporter outside the board meeting room about track workers being accused for falsifying records, he gave an example of a supervisor who would request a worker to complete an impossible assignment.
“You’re my manager. Why are you giving me this assignment? Not only did you give it to me once, but you gave it to me twice on separate days,” Jackson said. “Once you change the safety culture at this company, you will change the problem.”
He attributes a presentation made by Lynn Spencer with the Federal Transit Administration regarding the agency’s Safety Management Systems plan, which offers a policy and data-driven approach to improving safety at transit agencies nationwide.
Spencer, director of safety system at the FTA, said communication between supervisors and employees are vital for a transit company to succeed. She also said employees “are the eyes and ears of the organization” and a rich source of safety management information. She said transit agencies may be required to adopt this plan in the future.
Jackson hopes so, but with union officials being an equal partner to improve Metro.
“The front-line employees are the [people] that do the job,” he said. “If you are going to get safety done here, you have to bring the union to the table to get these things done. You can no longer discipline your way out of these problems.”