Friday, April 11, 2003

Worker Error Department, Part 2

Yet another in an occasional, but never-ending, series on how management blames workers (even if they’re supervisors) in order to cover up failures in management systems.

Transport Workers Union Calls Transit Authority Staffing Levels Dangerous

The New York City Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 has come to the defense of a New York City Transit (NYCT) supervisor who is being charged with responsibility for the death of a transit worker last November. NYCT management has proposed to fire the supervisor, Deanroy Cox, who is not a member of Local 100.

"Management is scapegoating Cox for something that was the fault of managers above him," said Local 100 Vice-president John Samuelsen. "The problem is staffing levels. If they put all the blame on Cox, it undercuts our effort to make sure that staffing is adequate so work can be done safely."

On the day of the fatality, Cox headed up a 3-person crew to test track signals. According to Samuelson, the minimum number of people who can do that kind of work is four, one of whom must work exclusively at flagging, to protect the rest of the crew from moving trains. With a 3-person crew the flagger must spend part of the time assisting with the signal testing. "Cox didn't decide to go out with two men, he was assigned two men," said Samuelson "He wasn't in a position to say how many men he was taking. Management told Cox to do it one way and then when a fatality happened they told him he wasn't supposed to do it that way. The only way Cox could get the work done was to have someone flagging and working on signals at the same time. Joy Antony tried to do that and it killed him."

The circumstances that led to Antony's death are indicative of the difficulty faced by Local 100 in trying to prevent on-the-job injury and illness. A month before Antony was killed, Local 100 had won a ruling from NYCT's Office of System Safety, which stated that signal-testing crews must include at least four workers. But, according to Local 100 Safety Director Toney Earl, "signal management ignored the Office of System Safety mandate," and continued to send out teams of three men to test signals, like the team that included Antony.

Less than two months after Antony's death, Local 100 negotiated a new contract, which gives Local 100 members the right to refuse unsafe work. "It makes a tremendous difference to us, even though many managers in the system aren't aware that we have that right," says Samuelson. "We have caught managers trying to do things the old way but for the most part they are sticking to the safety terms of the new contract."
Source: NYCOSH UPDATE ON SAFETY AND HEALTH, Vol. VII, No. 21, Friday, April 11, 2003 See also NY Times Article