Even With Big Salaries, Metro Can’t Fill Its Jobs

Luke Rosiak, Washington Times, March 27, 2012

The mechanics tasked with maintaining the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s chronically broken escalators start at $81,000 a year. Bus driver pay goes as high as $114,000 for anyone with a driver’s license and a GED.

Yet despite an economy that has left people from all walks of life looking for work, Metro says it can’t find qualified job applicants.

The transit system’s failure to meet its personnel needs was largely responsible for the $88 million in overtime it paid in 2010. The overtime paid to some station managers exceeded their base salaries, and maintenance workers made as much as $100,000 in overtime alone, according to an analysis of the most recent records officials would provide.

A personnel system that appears broken will be put to the test like never before as the agency prepares to add 1,000 new positions, an expansion coinciding with the opening of the Silver Line to Washington Dulles International Airport, that will push its total employee ranks past 12,000.

With nearly 1 in 10 existing positions unfilled and an additional 5 percent turnover each year, the chance of successfully filling all the new positions is virtually nil, said Tom Downs, a member of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Board.

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Current Metro policies, The Washington Times reported Tuesday, have led to a workforce whose largest job category is 97 percent black and has only 70 white women out of 10,000 non-executive workers, and where disciplinary and pay records document that some workers get away with chronic malfeasance while others are disciplined frivolously or harassed.

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Only 1 in 4 applicants passes Metro’s three-part test with reading, behavior and customer-service sections. But a statistical analysis of test results shows curious results.

In one class, nearly everyone who could read, according to the literacy test, was marked down as failing a “behavior assessment.” Everyone deemed tops on behavior, meanwhile, failed the other segments.

Metro officials said the tests were multiple choice and that the behavior test is designed to fail about half of the applicants.

“I don’t think the test is rocket science,” said Jackie L. Jeter, president of the union that represents most Metro workers.\

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To explain the 1.4 percent of operators who are Hispanic and 1.5 percent who are white, Mrs. Jeter speculated that such people must not be applying. (The union is not responsible for hiring.)

Mr. Downs said, for the same reasons Mrs. Jeter noted, that is false.

“Of course they are. These are good-paying jobs with retirement and health care,” Mr. Downs said.

Metro declined to provide demographic information on applicants.

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The average Metro worker had a $60,000 salary, which went up to $69,000 including overtime, about the same as D.C. schoolteachers.

The 144 people who try to keep Metro’s escalators in service make $80,000 to $100,000, after paid training at a $60,000 to $80,000 per year rate. The 488 station managers inside glass kiosks at rail stations—occasionally fielding questions, often with a bare minimum of information, riders say—have base salaries in the high $50,000s, but in reality, most take home closer to $70,000. Including overtime, 20 station managers made in the six figures.

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