Update: The foundation building Washington's new memorial to Martin Luther King Jr.announced Thursday that Sunday’s dedication has been postponed in anticipation of Hurricane Irene. The event will be rescheduled for some time in September of October.
The interfaith prayer service scheduled at the National Shrine of the Basilica on Saturday will be the last official event of the week-long events honoring King.
The memorial, the first on the Mall honoring an African American, has been a quarter century in the making.
— Clarence Williams
Original post: Metro employees have been recruited to work overtime for this weekend’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial dedication, but some workers are balking.
Metro originally sought volunteers but did not get enough, so the transit authority “declared a rail emergency,” Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said.
The agency sent a letter, dated Aug. 23 to Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, which represents most Metro employees with the details.
Stessel said the agency issues “this type of letter to the union in advance of any major event where we may have to invoke our right to force overtime.” He said a similar letter was issued for the 4th of July fireworks on the National Mall.
“If we don’t have enough volunteers, we’re going to have to bring in employees based on lowest seniority to ensure all shifts are staffed,” Stessel said.
Ten of thousands of people are expected for the MLK dedication event, and Metro is opening the rail system at 5 a.m. to accommodate the crowds. Metro plans to staff stations with extra personnel who will direct visitors and hand out brochures with walking instructions to the site on the Tidal Basin.
Under the contract with Metro’s union there is “loose terminology” of what includes an emergency or an unexpected amount of increase in ridership, according to Roland H. Jeter, first vice president of Local 689.
“There is such a thing in the contract as inverse seniority,” he said. “It means they go from the least senior person on the list in that department up, until they get enough people.”
Some Metro employees call the recruitment “forced overtime.” Jeter said the agency is in compliance with the union contract.
“If they have predictions that ridership is going to be up, there are provisions that will dictate the same policy as is used on the Fourth of July and on inauguration” when extra employees are needed, Jeter said.
She said Metro has followed the correct policy by first asking for volunteers and if “you don’t get enough that way, you use inverse seniority.”
Local 689, which has about 10,000 members, just finished a long battle with Metro to receive pay raises.
The union had been in arbitration with Metro over a 9 percent wage increase for its members to be awarded in 3 percent increments for 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Earlier this week, union president Jackie Jeter said she expected workers to get the raise at the end of September.
Working the MLK event will follow Metro’s policy for overtime.
Employees who work over 40 hours get paid time and a half. On the seventh day, employees receive double pay.
Working for the MLK event is not sitting well with some employees.
“I’m not a robot,” said a veteran of Metro who works as a station manager. The person asked that their name not be used because it is against the agency’s policy for workers to speak to the media without prior authorization.
“We do have family obligations, too,” said the employee.
The employee has been assigned to work Sunday afternoon until midnight, helping direct passengers at a station. Already, the person said that they have been working more 13-hour days for the last two months because colleagues are out ill or on vacation.
“We made a commitment to work here but it’s not fair,” the employee said. “I’m tired. I’m already going above and beyond.”
Even with the overtime pay, the worker said, “What good is it if you can’t spend it?”
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