It's a bad idea to treat customers badly and then turn around and ask for their support: transit union workers edition
The transit union (ATU Local 689) being worked up about DC's talk about moving to privatizing intra-city bus service (something that all the other area jurisdictions have done) and getting residents on their side, well I wonder if such a campaign will have any juice. See "Metro union aims to block DC plan to privatize buses" from the Washington Post.
-- ATU publication, Ten Reasons Why Transit Privatization is Bad for the District
-- ATU publication, Circulator Privatization Map
-- ATU publication, I'm in with Local 689 campaign sign up
From the article:
Metro’s biggest union is trying to rally support from pro-union groups and local community organizations to stop the District from privatizing some of its bus routes now run by the transit agency.
The District’s Department of Transportation is seeking a private contractor to take over about two dozen bus routes that Metro runs for the city and the popular D.C. Circulator bus system.
Operating the buses would be part of a larger deal in which a private contractor would also build and operate a streetcar system in Anacostia and along the H Street corridor.
City officials said the move is meant to create a more unified, efficient transportation system under one contract that could be worth at least $1.5 billion over 30 years.
Although I will say that "one unified transportation system" has at least three different elements:
1. The scheduling system and the integration of service between separately operated bus services;
2. The branding and positioning and service;
3. The contract to operate it.
Customers don't care about the contract to operate it. They do want the system to be "legible" and understandable and easy to use.
But there is no question that the private operators, such as Veolia Transportation, which runs the local bus service in Baltimore (as opposed to the service run by MTA), and First Transit, which operates the DC Circulator bus system, as well as the various operators running transit systems for other Washington-area jurisdictions, would like to run the intra-city bus services in DC too.
I had an interesting conversation with a DDOT staffer a few weeks back who had worked for awhile in California. We were talking about how strong the transit workers unions are in San Francisco and in the Bay Area too, BART suffered a strike a few weeks ago, see "Second BART strike looms as labor talks resume and workers lash out at management" from the San Jose Mercury News).
He made the point that one advantage of a strong transit workers union/movement is that they end up being a strong interest group in favor of the continued provision of transit funding. That matters, especially in bad times.
(This came up in Phoenix too. There the privately operated bus service wasn't meeting their service obligations and they racked up big fines. The union struck, because the operator claimed that the fines got in the way of giving raises. See the past blog entry "Sunday March 18 is International Bus Driver Appreciation Day." The city changed the contract in favor of reduced penalties.)
Jeter Re-Elected at ATU 689" from the AFL-CIO Metro DC Labor Council website.
I've never had the sense that the transit workers unions representing WMATA transit workers have that much of an outreach orientation focused on the voters (a/k/a "taxpayers"). I think from time to time the unions do some polling, because I recall answering a phone survey on the subject of transit, funding, etc., that seemed to be a union-related endeavor, based on the tenor of the questions.
But the other problem is that as far as worker-customer relations go, the unions go to the mat to protect workers who get reprimanded/fired for treating customers poorly.
And that doesn't make me all that willing to extend support to the Unions specifically. Also see the past blog entry, "When the union label may be terrifying: transit edition," "Metro derailed by culture of complacence, incompetence, lack of diversity: ‘Inept get promoted, … capable get buried’" from the Washington Times, and "ATU Local 689 answers your questions" from GGW.
It's like the police officers union in DC. They are busy all the time bashing management in their public statements (and they must miss the Examiner, which was a convenient mouthpiece for them when it published as a daily newspaper), but I don't feel like the union advocates for crime reduction and public safety in a concerted way.
The transit union has justified poor attitudes of their workers as a result of bad and oppressive management. Well, then advocate for a better work environment in order to better treat customers, who ultimately, are responsible for the employment of both management and workers.
Until then, it's hard for me to be motivated to go out of my way to be supportive, because it is rare to see the Union take a position of being pro-customer.
THAT BEING SAID, I am the first to say that driving a bus is one of the hardest jobs there is.