Local 689 of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) represents employees of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA or Metro). Last month, Lindsey Williams (Advocacy Director of the National Whistleblowers Center) and I spoke to Local 689's Executive Board. You can follow this link to my report of that meeting.
Now, ATU Local 689 has distributed an article about our meeting to all its members through its newsletter. This is the October/November 2010 issue, pages 10-11. You can download those two pages here (PDF file of 1.3 MB). Or, you can get the full newsletter (12 pages, 10 MB), from ATU Local 689's webpage.
The ATU Local 689 newsletter was particularly interested in my assertion that the National Transit System Security Act (NTSSA) of 2007, 6 USC §1142, protects public transit employees when they speak to the media about safety concerns. I should add here that the protection for media disclosures is not absolute, but requires a balancing of the reasonableness of the employee's actions in light of any foreseeable adverse consequences of such disclosures. For example, if an employee were to raise a concern about security procedures, and revealed sensitive information that could be used to evade legitimate security protections, a court might find that the disclosure is not protected. However, if the disclosure is a good faith attempt to apply public pressure or government action to improve safety, then that should be protected.
ATU Local 689's Chief Safety Officer, Anthony Garland, told the newsletter that WMATA management still prohibits employees from speaking to the media about safety, fraud or mismanagement. He adds, "The Authority's policy needs to be addressed by the union. An employee's federally protected right to speak to the media or any entity investigating safety, an accident, fraud, etc. must be respected by the Authority." I agree.
The ATU Local 689 newsletter raises a concern that WMATA management have failed to fully implement the recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). "WMATA has merely made moderate attempts at implementing measures to appease the Board of Directors and local media." To the extent that WMATA still restricts protected activities by employees, and attempts to channel them through a chain of command, I agree again. Local 689 is calling on WMATA to revise its whistleblower policy so it is consistent with federal law, and then train its supervisors about the workers' rights to raise safety concerns.
It would be good if area media recognized that it was in their interests and in the public interest, if they would join in the call for a clear WMATA policy protecting all manner of disclosures about safety, waste, fraud and mismanagement. The media could help by publicizing the protections of NTSSA so that everyone in the community, including WMATA employees, would be aware of their rights to raise their concerns publicly.