Metro board members told the transit agency on Thursday it needs to limit employees' long hours after a new report showed that workers can log 16-hour shifts for days on end, leading to potentially dangerous safety conditions.
And some suggested that the agency's plan to limit workers to 14-hour days may not go far enough to fight worker fatigue.
D.C. representative Tom Downs said it was unacceptable for workers to be able to work 112 hours a week -- 16-hour days for seven days -- and questioned 98-hour weeks under the proposed 14-hour day. He cited a worker quoted in the report who said employees have to choose between money and their lives.
"Management and the board have an obligation to eliminate that as a choice. And we don't do that with incremental steps," he said. "We're creating financial incentives to put their lives at risk for an increased pension."
An independent safety group charged with monitoring Metrorail, the Tri-State Oversight Committee, and Metro conducted a study into worker fatigue after The Washington Examiner reported on employees logging extensive overtime, with some working more than 40 hours of overtime a week for weeks on end.
Metro officials said they plan to take several steps in response to the report's findings, including limiting the workday to 14 hours. But the key, they said, is filling more than 300 vacancies in "safety sensitive" jobs to reduce the dependence on overtime.
By the end of March, Metro plans to limit the workday to 14 hours for automatic train control technicians once the agency can train 20 new workers. They plan to extend the 14-hour limit to other track workers by the end of 2012. By 2014, Metro plans to extend the limits to all train operators.
General Manager Richard Sarles also plans to hire consultants to give recommendations based on work hours in other fields. Other transportation industries face regulations that limit workdays to no more than 12 hours.
But not all of the board members are satisfied with the proposed goal. Maryland representative Michael Barnes said he questions whether it is safe to have 14-hour shifts when he thinks of his daughter riding the system twice a day, using the escalators, tracks and trains.
"The answer is no. I think that is too much, personally," he said. "Fourteen hours is way too much."
Downs also called it a "failure of management" that employees did not know about supposedly mandatory training to teach them about fatigue. He also said he was "appalled" to learn that the agency does not enforce a ban on workers having second jobs outside of Metro, saying the agency needs to outline clear policies and clear penalties for workers who moonlight. It is not clear how many workers have second jobs.
While Metro enacts the reforms, D.C. Councilwoman Muriel Bowser asked whether employees could work 16-hour days for seven days straight next week. Sarles responded that it was unlikely but could happen.