A 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.