CTA Firings Raise Concerns over the Safety of Public Transportation Passengers

The Bus and Train Injury Attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. take note of the continued increase in Chicago Transit Authority employee firings, since 2011, when Forrest Claypool took over as president of the agency. According to reports, roughly 900 CTA employees have been dismissed under Claypool’s watch, a significant portion of which were related to violation of agency rules. As personal injury lawyers, we certainly welcome Claypool’s efforts to clean-up the transit authority. Yet, when considering both the reasons behind such dismissals, as well as the reinstatement of approximately a fifth of these workers, we remain concerned over the safety of public transportation passengers.

As reported by Chicago Tribune, during the 3 ½ year period between January 2011 and June 2014, CTA firings included:

• 293 for violations of agency rules • 289 for excessive absenteeism • 64 for “other reasons”
• 56 for unexcused absenteeism • 27 for insubordination/violation of authority’s rules • 24 for safety violations • 22 for falsification of authority records
Of the employees dismissed, approximately 94% were union workers, and backed by union support, many of these workers were ordered reinstated as a result of the arbitration process, with more workers expected to be reinstated in the future. According to union leaders, Claypool’s augmented disciplinary policy is flawed, because it allows for an employee to be fired after a single incident involving a rule violation, as opposed to a progressive approach that regulates employees through the use of warnings, mandatory restraining, and unpaid suspensions, followed by dismissal upon problem persistence.

While we do have sympathy for the employees that lost their jobs, as injury attorneys, we are compelled to side with the CTA, in that one incident is sufficient to warrant dismissal, particularly in regard to firings associated with safety violations and falsification of records. Further, while absenteeism cannot be said, in and of itself, to pose a risk to public safety, it does demonstrate a lack of commitment, not only to one’s employer, but to one’s position as a public transportation service provider, which some would say, in the very least, places in question a worker’s ability to ensure passenger safety while on duty.

As stated by CTA spokesman Brian Steel, “We are looking for the best-caliber employee,” and “we don’t apologize for setting a pretty high bar for meeting all safety requirements.” Although union leaders would disagree with our contentions, we simply must view the issue from the perspective of our own profession-legal representatives that serve and protect the interests of injured public transportation passengers.

In a series of statements, which we find highly contradictory, union president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Robert Kelly, acknowledged clear safety concerns with regard to rail operator platform-berthing errors, yet maintains his position against Claypool’s one-strike approach. Kelly notes the CTA’s dismissal of a 25-year veteran rail-operator with a spotless record, due to the employee’s failure to stop the train at the proper spot, opening the doors, and then closing them again upon realization of his mistake.

Again, although we recognize that humans are imperfect beings, and often make mistakes, we must err on the side of public safety. Consider the incident in March, in which a CTA Blue Line Train jumped the platform as it was pulling in at O’Hare, causing the front-car to land on the escalator, resulting in the injury of more than 30 train passengers. This is the precise type of preventable accident that demonstrates are reasoning behind supporting Claypool’s efforts to improve safety.

Further, for those not persuaded by safety risk issues, perhaps the financial impact upon community members, associated with government liability claims brought forth by public transportation passengers, provides a more convincing argument. Shortly after the March incident, we discussed such claims in ‘Multiple Lawsuits Expected to be Filed Following CTA Derailment.’ Despite the presence of liability insurance held by public entities, it would be a falsity to believe that actions against governmental entities have no impact on the allocation of taxpayer dollars.

Rail Station customer service assistants (CSAs) is another issue addressed under Claypool’s watch. CSA employees are responsible, not only for general station maintenance, but also for responding to passenger inquiries, assisting disabled riders, as well as reporting problems associated with equipment and facilities. Certainly one could see how failing to instruct or properly instruct, both disabled and non-disabled passengers, as well as failures in identifying equipment or facility problems, can pose a safety risk to rail users.

In addition to train-operation service employees, bus drivers appear to be most problematic of all, both in terms of safety, as well as financial impact on the transit agency. Nearly 60% of CTA firings between 2011 and 2014 were bus drivers. According to reports, the CTA incurred $30 million in 2013 alone, due to bus operator absenteeism. Yet, union representatives of bus-related CTA workers continue to reject Claypool’s disciplinary initiatives, again, arguing that progressive measures are a more suitable solution to regulating CTA employees.

In conclusion, safety concerns provide us with sufficient reasoning to support both the CTA and Claypool-and the allocation of public funds serve to supplement our contentions. While injury or death caused by accidents involving a bus collision or train derailment are more common, many passengers fail to consider the potential for injuries in other types of incidents, such as slip & fall accidents that occur while aboard a public transportation vehicle or at a rail station facility.

Accidents come in many forms, and negligence can often be attributed to person or entities that victims may never even consider. By contacting an experienced professional, you can protect your legal rights to compensation. Contact Chicago attorneys, Zneimer & Zneimer P.C., either online, or by calling 773-516-4100.