Sunday, September 9, 2012

CTA Kicks Workers To The Curb With Rules Crackdown

Remember high school, when just being five minutes late for class earned a black mark from the teacher?  Evidently, there must be a lot of angry former teachers running the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), which is cracking down on absenteeism and lateness...even if it's only five minutes past the appointed hour, as the Chicago Tribune reports.

According to the Tribune's September 3 report, CTA President Forrest Claypool has begun a "zero-tolerance" policy on rules violations, such as those for absenteeism and tardiness. The flipside is that managers no longer have discretion in how to discipline workers.

Sixty-three bus and rail workers have been fired for repeated lateness, as of August 20, versus nine for all of 2011. Twenty-two bus and rail workers have also been let go for excessive absences during the same period. According to the newspaper, the latter figure amounted to about three discharges per month, versus one per month during 2011.

Naturally, Mr. Claypool claims only the most benevolent motives. In the Tribune article, he throws around buzzwords like "consistency" and "fairness," saying that the agency lost too many grievances from rules that weren't applied across the board:

"The consequences of employees not showing up for work or reporting late has a cascading effect on the quality of our service in terms of buses bunching up, schedules being out of whack and millions of dollars wasted on inefficiencies."

So far, however, this newfound consistency seems to be yielding a lot of skewed results, as part-time driver Paris Cooper told the Tribune: "I had no accidents on my record, I was a good employee, but I was like five minutes late for work." 

Cooper -- who plans to challenge his dismissal -- was fired on June 30, after showing up late a fourth time.  He stated that his tardiness related to being diagnosed with diabetes, and suffering from low blood sugar attacks in the morning. 

Other drivers voice fears about being disciplined for things that aren't their fault, such as bumping against a cab driver who happens to open his door while the bus rolls up to its stop: "In the past, you weren't charged for that, because how could you have avoided it?"

In classic "oh, by the way" style, the Tribune notes these acceelerated firings coincide with a drive to get by with part-timers and temps!  As of Auust 13, the CTA hired 147 part-time temporary bus employees, versus none in the past two years, the Tribune stated.

On the rail side, the CTA has hired 138 full-time temporary workers, about the same number as in 2011 (146) and 2010 (136). The agency has also hosted job fairs to add about 400 part-time bus operators. This link from Alderman Jason C. Ervin's Facebook page should give a fair idea of that particular drift:

So how do these elements add up in the big picture?  On one hand, it sounds like a case of union-busting: the old contract expired in December, and negotations toward a new one are apparently going slow. When you face an estimated $277 million shortfall, using part-timers and temps sounds pretty appealing. Why else would you change -- virtually overnight, with little or no warning -- the ground rules for how everybody's expected to operate? 

Even if the clampdown isn't a union-busting maneuver, its long-term effect remains to be seen. On the surface, it's hard to see anything positive coming out of the deal. Where you had some measure of discretion, you'll now have a Third World-style management culture, based on control, fear and paranoia -- and one that will hardly make the case for recruiters, if (and when) the economy ever turns around.

For a better snapshot of how the troops on the ground feel, I'll turn it over to this (excerpted) posting from a gentleman on WTTW's message board:

"How come he [Claypool] never states how much money is being saved on part time bus operators? No paid holidays, no paid vacation, no dental insurance, no time off with pay ever!!! A lot of us have been part time for five or more years! That should have put a dent in The budget deficit by now!!

Suffice to say, Mr. Claypool will probably be a no-show for the CTA union's Christmas party this year...and it's doubtful that either side will be swapping cards, even if they finally strike that elusive new contract. --The Reckoner

UPDATE (10/14/14): Evidently, things havn't gotten much better at the Claypool Corral, judging by this article from the Chicago Tribune ("CTA Employee Dismissals Soar Under Claypool's Watch," 10/13/14) seems to suggest:

In true punk rock Socratic tradition, we won't regurgitate the entire contents for you. From your humble narrator's standpoint, however, the most interesting portion concern the fate of the CTA's Customer Service Assistants, who are supposed to answer questions, help riders with disabilities, and report equipment breakdowns and failures. 

Apparently, the body count under the Claypool regime is notably higher (percentage-wise) than the so-called regular employees: 

"The CTA hired 700 of these CSAs last year, but fired 90 from January 2013 through June 2014.
"'It's a low-paying job. You get all sorts of candidates,' said one CTA official.
"The highest rate of firings was in entry-level rail car servicer apprentice positions, which are designed to offer a second chance to felons. The work entails picking up trash and debris in rail cars, mopping floors and scrubbing seats, and it pays $9.50 an hour. It does not come with benefits." 
In other words...depending where you're perched on the CTA totem pole, your ride could place you on the fast track to the No-Wage, No-Benefits Ghetto...and leave you there stuck forever.  Is it any wonder that the underground economy continues to grow leap and bounds? --The Reckoner

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