WASHINGTON - The union representing the majority of Metro’s workers says their members are not staging a “sick out” this Friday for transit agency employees, and that the union stands behind employees who are abiding by the absentee policy laid out by the transit agency.
This comes after WMATA said they had received an “unusually high” number of absence requests for Friday, and rumors surfaced of a possible “sick out” being threatened by employees. In a statement Tuesday, Metro said, “Management is staffing based on an unusually-high number of absence requests to ensure the delivery of service to customers.”
At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, union representatives said no “sick out” was being staged by their organization, and they have not been contacted by WMATA about the rumors.
“The members of Local 689 take a great deal of pride in providing public transit in this region, and we would never stage an exercise to intentionally harm the riders of the Washington Metropolitan area,” ATU international representative Anthony Wayne Garland said.
Garland said the union was contacted Tuesday to ask if they were coordinating a sick out on Metro—but not by the transit organization.
“If management thought that there were a sick out stage by Local 689 and its members, it would have contacted the office here at Local 689. To this date, we have not heard from WMATA,” he said.
Union representatives say WMATA’s absenteeism policy requires that employees must give a three-day notice to have an excused absence, and that union workers are following policy. They added that any union member who called in on Tuesday to say they may be sick on Friday did so because WMATA’s absenteeism policy requires it. Garland called the absentee policy “ridiculous,” and Local 689 president Jackie Jeter agreed.
“We’re not calling a sick out,” Jeter said. “What members have done is abide by the rules and regulations that WMATA set forth. Their absenteeism policy requires that anyone who is going sick call out three days ahead of time, and that’s what they did.”
Jeter said she has no idea how many people have called in sick for Friday, and that reporters would have to ask WMATA that question.
“I don’t know how many people called out,” Jeter said. “I don’t know how many people normally call out. So, I don’t know if it’s normal or not. That’s what someone contacted the media and said. We didn’t.”
On Wednesday, Metro issued this statement on the number of people who requested for the day off on Friday.
"Metro received nearly 500 advance absence requests for Friday from bus and rail employees, a rate that is many times higher than normal," Metro said. "We have denied all of the requests. We expect to offer full bus and rail service for our customers as scheduled on Friday."
In response, Jeter said in a statement sent to the media and intended for Metro general manager Paul Wiedefeld:
Moments ago we received a copy of a statement from 3 media outlets regarding a denial of 500 sick leave request for Friday. Here is our question and response:
Will WMATA accept the responsibility of refusing a person who is legitimately sick from getting a doctor’s care Friday? Further, will you force them to operate vehicles that transport hundreds or possibly thousands of riders while ill?
We Look Forward to Your Response.
Jeter says the policy doesn’t just refer to scheduled time-off requests, but that it includes sick days and that if they don’t abide by the policy, employees will get eight points. WMATA gives points to employees as part of disciplinary action.
“The policy is asinine, because there’s nobody that works for any organization that I know of that can give a three-day notice telling them ‘I’m going sick,’ or ‘I’m going to have the flu on Tuesday, so I’m going to call you on Sunday,’” she said. ”That’s ridiculous. It does not make sense.”
The transit agency is currently in contentious contract negotiations with ATU Local 689, but Jeter said that this has nothing to do with that.
Jeter said the union supports actions of the members 100 percent, when they abide by the policies outlined by WMATA—and she said in this case, they have.
“I want to say again very clearly that we are committed to providing safe, affordable, reasonable, reliable transit system here at WMATA, and as members of Local 689. WMATA needs to get serious about protecting workers and riders, and they need to do it through labor-management collaboration, and stop trying to discipline their way to a safety culture because it does not work,” Garland said.