A former Metro employee who was fired Wednesday morning said his termination was in retaliation for a whistleblower case he brought out of safety concerns.
Trap Thomas, who worked as a track inspector with Metro for nine years, said he was fired for falsifying documents of inspections, a charge he denied during a lengthy news conference held by the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 to provide recommendations on improving Metrorail safety.
“There’s a culture of retaliation,” he told reporters at the AFL-CIO headquarters in northwest D.C. “Management for me, from the bottom to the top, is not about safety. We hear safety trumps service and that’s absolutely not true.”
Thomas’s name was mentioned last month in a transcript released by the National Transportation Safety Board with him being interviewed by a Metro safety officer investigating a train derailment in July near the East Falls Church station in Northern Virginia in July. However, his termination isn’t connected with the derailment.
Thomas, who resides in Alexandria and came to Metro after working in New York City’s transit system for nine years, said he raised complaints in 2011 about damaged rail ties between the East Falls Church and Ballston-MU stations. He also has a pending whistleblower case with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, claiming that he placed speed restrictions, but supervisors lifted them.
Asked if anything has changed since the arrival of Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld in November 2015 and subsequent new supervisors, Thomas said, “Nothing. Just an appearance.”
Last month, Wiedefeld informed the agency’s board of directors that 28 employees with the track inspection department faced disciplinary actions.
Union President Jackie Jeter said three of those people were fired Wednesday. In total, seven workers and at least five supervisors have been fired so far.
Metro officials declined to comment on disciplinary measures taken against individual employees, but Wiedefeld issued a statement Wednesday defending the agency’s actions.
“It’s important to remember that thousands of Metro employees do a great job and routinely put safety first,” he said. “However, a true culture of safety requires that we hold ourselves and each other accountable. We cannot condone falsification of documents and I stand by the actions we have taken that hold both front-line and management employees accountable.”
Jeter said the union continues to wait on correspondence from Metro officials to explain why the seven employees represented by the union were fired, per contract regulations between the union and the transit agency.
“Specifically, what did they do?” she said. “You can’t discipline someone by painting a broad-brush picture. You have to be specific in how you discipline and what they did. That’s what we are asking [Metro].”
ATU officials asked former transit workers and safety consultants to review documents from the union, Metro, NTSB and the Federal Transit Administration. They all agreed Metro has a safety problem.
Regarding the East Falls Church derailment, Robin Gillespie, who manages her own firm called RMGillespie Consulting in New York City, said the blame doesn’t rest with the track inspectors.
“All these deficiencies are the responsibility of management, not hourly workers,” she wrote in a 10-page report. “The schedule of inspections, the number of interlocks assigned, the response to restrictions and defects report are all under control of track supervision.”