Metro officials yesterday announced a reorganization of the transit authority's labor relations staff in a move to improve ties with unions representing more than 6,000 transit workers.
George F. Babic, 42, a veteran labor relations specialist, has been named to the $65,747-a-year post of labor relations director. Babic, a former labor relations manager for the automotive operations group of Rockwell International Corp., will head an eight-member Metro office.
Metro General Manager Carmen E. Turner said the shift would provide "priority attention" for labor relations. In a staff notice, she said she had concluded that Metro's labor relations efforts "needed to be strengthened."
Labor relations have long been a focus of criticism by members of Metro's board of directors, union leaders and other officials.
Grievances by transit workers recently led to hurriedly called talks and threats of possible strikes. Negotiations collapsed earlier this year in a five-year contract dispute with a union representing white-collar workers, and arbitrators were called in to try to arrange a settlement.
Babic is the fourth person to oversee labor relations for Metro in six years. Gayland K. Moffat resigned as human resources director last February, and the post had been vacant since. Turner has expressed concern about "the instability" in the human resources office, and union negotiators have described the job as a "revolving door."
The reorganization amounted to a reversal of an earlier move. After a study four years ago, Metro consolidated its personnel and labor staffs to establish the human resources office. Turner now has split the staff into two separate offices, one for labor relations and the other for personnel and training. A director has not been chosen for the personnel and training office.
"By separating the offices, it gives labor a lot of emphasis," Babic said yesterday.
Babic's appointment drew cautious praise yesterday from some union officials.
"He says he has the ear of the general manager to do things a little different," said James M. Thomas, president of Local 689 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents about 5,700 bus drivers, subway operators and other employes. "Personally, he's a lovable guy."
In Detroit, a union official said Babic gained a reputation for fairness and willingness to settle disputes quickly. "I found George, not the easiest guy in the world, but a pretty straight shooter," said Charles Webb, a United Auto Workers official.
A Rockwell official since 1978, Babic managed labor relations for about 8,000 employes represented by six unions at 10 plants.