Two-thirds of Metrorail technicians unqualified to work alone
Two-thirds of Metrorail technicians are unqualified to work alone, according to a new report that says the expertise shortage “may compromise the safety of the system.”
But transit union leaders say much of the report is “simply not true,” pointing instead to training and budget cuts that tax both the system and those who keep it running.
As more railcars from manufacturer Hitachi arrive to replace Miami-Dade’s aged fleet, one thing all agree on is this: without changes, things will get worse.
The report advisory firm IMG Rebel delivered June 19 to the Citizens’ Independent Transportation Trust lists an array of troubling findings.
Most alarming is the conclusion that of 99 authorized Metrorail technician slots, workers who can troubleshoot and work alone fill just 12, with to 64 held by undertrained staff and 23 vacant.
That qualification dearth, IMG says, is due to a mandate that federally funded transit agencies commit to preserving employee rights and benefits, including collective bargaining and employment safeguards.
The last time Miami-Dade and Transport Workers Union Local 291 agreed to terms was before 1990, when labor rules allowed outside hiring and minimum qualifications. Today’s seniority-based pipeline in which former bus drivers are promoted to be Metrorail technicians is “one of the most restrictive bargaining unit agreements and recruitment practices [IMG has] encountered,” the report says.
“Should there be another hurricane… it may not take two days [but weeks] to get the system [running],” IMG Rebel Senior VP Sasha Page said.
Transportation Director Alice Bravo said her department is “strategizing with [county] attorneys” and had sent the union a letter that “draws a line in the sand.”
That letter, Transportation Deputy Director Alberto Parjus said, told the union it is violating state and federal rules and unless terms for minimum qualifications and better training are reached, the county will set those standards without union input.
“Part of it is going to be a big legal battle,” Ms. Bravo said. “We’ve asked them to come to the table over the last six months. They’ve refused to meet with us.”
But such talks five years ago led nowhere, said Jeffrey Mitchell, union president.
“We went to arbitration for better training,” he said. “They fought tooth and nail to keep it like it is.”
As is, he said, potential technicians undergo up to a year’s training, then a year-long probation, only after which are they certified.
“[The county] has… two years to figure [things] out,” he said. “We’ve got a system almost 40 years old [we keep] running. Now it’s not safe? Well, that starts at the top. If you’re not willing to invest… you can’t complain about the results.”
And the report’s finding that most technicians can’t work alone is “flawed,” he said.
Techs have no issue with the old railcars, he said, but Hitachi’s – which come with defective brakes and doors that opened while the train is in motion – are another matter.
“The technicians we got from Hitachi, most are from Jiffy Lube. They’re sitting under the trains trying to teach our guys, and they don’t know themselves,” he said. “And [the county’s] sitting here talking about safety.”