Fliers: We can fix Metro's escalators
The union whose members originally installed Metro's escalators are mounting a public campaign to convince the rail system that private contractors--its members--would do a better job than Metro's employees.
In the wake of high-profile failures, consistently poor performance, long outages and a swelling anger among riders--many of whom say they rarely see people actually working on escalators that are out of service for repairs--the union is peppering Metro stations and other locations with fliers urging riders to contact Metro leadership and urge them to do what the union hasn't been able to convince them to do: Contract with private escalator specialists rather than relying on an in-house team.
International Union of Elevator Constructors Local 10 is hardly unfamiliar with Metro's system: "IBC Local 10 signatory companies have put in every Metro escalator and elevator," said the union's business manager, Jimmy Demmel, "and up until 1991 we maintained them, too."
"Things were going so well they needed to do it themselves: 'If it's not broke, I'm gonna break it."
A Washington Post article from March of that year, however, began: "Steps are breaking on the 460 escalators at Metro rail stations with increasing frequency, requiring costly repairs and inconveniencing riders, officials said yesterday."
Union members still do some major rehabilitation for Metro, and until recently it still handled a few repairs, but those are now the domain of Metro employees who train at a Metro escalator facility in Landover.
"They haven't had the opportunity for training. Our training program is a national program, and our training is second-to-none. It's the industry standard," Demmel said of his "100-year-old union with the manpower in town."
The posters targeted at frustrated riders--including those at Dupont Circle, where all but one of the long escalators were recently out of service during rush hour, causing chaos--cite the 2002 findings of a blue ribbon panel convened by Metro to study the issue. "Tired of walking on broken escalators?" the fliers ask. "Private contractors can do it better while saving Metro 10.9 million dollars a year."
"They didnt listen to their own panel," Demmel said.
Metro has hired an outside consultant to advise them on the moving stairways. Metro's top "vertical transport" official, David Lacosse, said in a 2006 online chat: "Mix hundreds of thousands of people and moving mechanical equipment together and something is bound to go wrong." Metro officials have also said that stripping the steps from escalators to access their inner workings is by nature time-consuming, and that finding replacement parts for the oldest escalators can be a challenge.
Still, the union is charging ahead with a campaign to turn rider anger into more work for its members.
"I know how they can fix it, and save money for the riders: by outsourcing to the union that put them in," Demmel said. "Metro's got a lot on their plate. This is any easy opportunity to save money and give better service to riders."
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