CTA: Blue Line crash comes just five months after previous crash on same line
UPDATE: The CTA is changing how rail operators are scheduled as a result of a review of the crash that injured at least 30 people at the O’Hare International Airport Blue Line station, the agency said today. READ MORE … Does the latest Chicago Transit Authority, or CTA, Blue Line crash at O’Hare feel like déjà...
UPDATE: The CTA is changing how rail operators are scheduled as a result of a review of the crash that injured at least 30 people at the O’Hare International Airport Blue Line station, the agency said today. READ MORE …
Does the latest Chicago Transit Authority, or CTA, Blue Line crash at O’Hare feel like déjà vu?
It should, as just five months ago the CTA had an accident involving a “ghost train” crashing into another train. And just like this most recent accident at O’Hare, the ghost train sent 30 people to the hospital and caused more than $6 million in damages.
At the center of the aftermath in both accidents was the union – and union-negotiated work policies. The most recent Blue Line crash has brought scrutiny on negotiated discipline and overtime policies.
As repeated accidents demonstrate, these work policies are important factors in the delivery of public services. These work policies and collectively bargained contracts should be easy for the public to access online. Unfortunately, they are nowhere to be found on the Internet.
Illinois is also one of just 11 states that have completely secret government-union negotiations, giving the public no ability to look at negotiated language until it is already ratified. The public should be able to look at contractual language before and after it’s ratified, as this most recent CTA debacle demonstrates.
So why are union-negotiated contracts and work rules at the center of this most recent Blue Line crash?
Fact: The blue line operator admitted to falling asleep at the wheel one month prior to the incident, which led to blowing through a station stop. Management issued a simple written warning to the operator.
Could management have done more?
The union-negotiated Corrective Action Guidelines state that a written warning is the first step management was allowed to take. According to the negotiated language, “failure to remain alert … inattention to duty” or “unauthorized passing [of] a scheduled station stop” warrant the following discipline track:
First offense: Written warning
Second offense: Final written warning and one-day suspension
Third offense: Probation and three-day suspension
Fourth offense: Referral for discharge
Although there is a clause stating “accelerated discipline” may occur in warranted cases, this type of offense was only listed as a simple safety violation and not listed under the “examples of violations which may warrant accelerated discipline.”
Fact: The operator worked anywhere from 57-69 hours during the week of the crash, including at least 16 hours of overtime. The crash occurred at 2:50 a.m.
According to CTA officials, the operator requested the overtime and was entitled to it because of union-negotiated language. Due to negotiated extra compensation that comes with late-night and overtime shifts, it is easy to see how an individual would take on more hours than is typically safe.
And if union rules entitled workers to the hours, management would have been required to let the employee work the overtime – even if there was a safer way of distributing overtime hours to other staff.
If management tried to violate any of the union-negotiated rules, the employee could file a grievance, and most likely win.
The public should be aware of the fact that their train operator might have been disciplined the month before for falling asleep at the wheel, or that it’s possible they’re exhausted from working 17-29 hours beyond the normal work week.
And even though union rules have been at the heart of major accidents, little is disclosed to the public. The CTA does not post its union contracts, work rules or discipline policies on their website.
These union-negotiated work rules are a mess. They put public safety at stake, yet citizens are not able to know how or why they are written.
At the very least, lawmakers should pass legislation requiring agencies to post negotiated contract language online before it is ratified. Lawmakers should also pass currently pending legislation in Springfield called the Local Government Transparency Act, which would require agencies to post all sorts of vital information on their website.
The CTA needs more transparency. If sending over 60 people to the hospital in the past six months isn’t a wake-up call, I’m afraid to know what is.