L&I fines King County Metro for ‘serious’ training violations

VIDEO: L&I fines King County Metro for ?serious? training violations

In a series of 2019 investigative reports, KIRO 7 uncovered dozens of surveillance videos that showed violent incidents on-board King County Metro buses.

After those reports aired, multiple Metro bus drivers filed a complaint with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries claiming not all drivers are trained to deal with such violence.

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In early May 2020, those complaints were investigated and as a result, L&I fined King County Metro $6,600 stating “the employer did not develop, supervise, implement, and enforce safety and health training programs.”

Ken Price, president of Amalgamated Transit Union 587 – which represents King County Metro operators – told KIRO 7 last year that the lack of training put drivers at risk. “It’s just the amount of mentally disturbed people or drunk folks that depend on the bus, and our operators not having the training, in my opinion, that needs to happen,” Price said in August.

When asked specifically what type of training Price would like his operators to receive, he responded, “true de-escalation training.”

On May 4, after reviewing training records, interviewing employees and interviewing management, L&I determined that training was not given to all drivers. Their citation stated , "Some of the drivers that were not trained were the victims of assaults in 2019. Therefore, the employer (Metro) did not supervise, implement and enforce training programs.”

The L&I citation further warned, "When the employer does not establish, supervise, and enforce safety and health training programs, employees are exposed to disgruntled passengers without having the proper training to de-escalate the violence or to prevent the violence from occurring which can cause injuries resulting in permanent disability or death."

King County Spokesman Jeff Switzer told KIRO 7 on Monday that Metro plans to pay the fine. He also emailed the following comments:

"Safety is our No. 1 priority and our efforts reduced assaults on operators last year to the lowest levels in nearly 17 years of available statistics (In 2019: 62 spitting or striking assaults out of 121 million boardings, or 0.48 per million.)

"Our operators are peacekeepers, not enforcers, and our successful efforts span several years and tactics, including expansion of our on-board camera system, improved training for operators, and police response and fare collection policies that support operator safety.

"The state’s report identifies possible gaps in our de-escalation and defusing hostile situations training. This training is designed to provide operators with tools for avoiding confrontations with passengers. All of our full-time operators receive training, and hundreds of our part-time operators have received new de-escalation training implemented in 2019.

"We’re preparing our response to the state which will outline our corrective actions, including a timeline for how we will update training for our operators and address the gaps identified in the state’s report. Our goal remains to eliminate operator assaults.

"New part-time operators receive communications training to help them address confrontations or conflict on board buses. The training is later expanded to defusing hostile situations when part-time drivers are promoted to full-time drivers because they interact even more with riders. Additional de-escalation training was implemented in 2019 and our training section has trained 400 operators. A new approach is in development to address the state’s report that there are gaps in our training program, including better tracking to demonstrate who has been trained."

King County has until June 6 to pay the fine.

Meanwhile, in response to KIRO 7’s request for comment regarding L&I’s recent findings, Price emailed the following:

"I am aware of the citation, and these findings are always a ATU concern in regards to more training and discipline for all at Metro. Discipline was addressed in the current tentative agreement contract. The unfair discipline issue, due to an unsafe work environment and lack of training, is the common issue/incident of most grievances.

"We want the training, and we want a safe work place. The current pandemic and this fine has only exposed how big of an issue that safety is, and the need for more protection. This is a protection for all, including the driver. Unfortunately, the customary way has been questioned many times, but has been routine for a very long time. It is slow and it is frustrating, but the point is this: a practice has a history.

"At this point of time, while I am very aware of this complaint, I have not spoken to anyone directly at Metro.

"We have committed to the installation of drivers shields. This will help ensure a safer work station for our drivers. There is discussion to remove the paper transfers; this will remove the number one reason behind passenger and operator conflict.

"Training is a tool, It develops a response to a situation. It is an action Metro needs now and consistently. But again, this practice has a history.

“In closing , ATU 587 believes that looking forward to the future expansion of transit is and has been a major focus for all involved. But the public funding has been wrongfully distributed, at very high amounts, into looking into and signing contracts to privatize transit. Their focus on this push to privatize transit has resulted in years of neglect for Transit Safety in King County. The ambiguous responsibility of King County is especially obvious when they try to push private transit during the current health epidemic. Ridership is at an all-time low, but yet they consider mobility departments essential when in its current status, the transit recovery looks bleak. Why are we keeping Mobility funded at record numbers and giving over the top bonuses to these departments? Bonuses to top Management, and not to workers on the frontline. Yes, this is happening now. This is basically taking public money and handing it over to upper management and private companies, during a recession. It is Essential to cut this overhead. The message speaks loudly on votes vs layoffs and the imminent homelessness of our own public sector essential employees.”