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Laid-Off Light-Rail Operators Protest Cuts

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A dozen or so light-rail operators protested at the Central Station in downtown Phoenix this morning, holding hand-made signs that excoriated both Metro Light Rail and the Boston-based company that manages the line, ACI.

Carrying the colorful poster boards with slogans including "Metro Rail, Thanks for the Unemployment" and "ACI-Metro Rail Lured Us with Lies," the workers handed out leaflets to riders using the stop.

New Times first reported the layoffs on this blog September 28. At that point, Metro Light Rail had ordered ACI to lay off four operators. Bob Bean, president of the union that represents light-rail operators, tells us that the cuts followed almost immediately.

As Bean explains, the layoffs are particularly galling to the operators because they all gave up good jobs and their seniority within the city's bus system to take a chance on light rail.

"They all had at least five years' experience," Bean says. "They would never have been laid off with Veolia," the company that manages the city's bus system.

On September 29, the union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433, filed a grievance against ACI, saying that -- even before the layoffs were final -- the company was so short-staffed, it had been forced to use supervisors to operate the light rail. "This is a total violation of the contract between the company and the union," the grievance states.

Since the layoffs were official, Bean says the problem has only gotten worse. He also questions why light-rail operations are so top-heavy: "They've got 26 supervisors and 52 operators!" Veolia, which manages the bus system, has just 25 supervisors and 750 operators, Bean says.

Since the layoffs were ordered by Metro Light Rail and merely implemented by ACI, we asked Metro Light Rail for comment.  We asked specifically about whether supervisors have been forced to run the trains -- and if so, why more operators are being laid off.

Here's the oh-so-enlightening statement we got in response:

METRO is reducing its operational costs in an across-the-board manner to streamline its daily rail operations. The streamlining will make for a more efficient system and save taxpayer dollars. METRO will continue to monitor its operation and budget to ensure both are being maintained.

Now that explains everything, doesn't it?

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