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Valley Metro Rail Orders Layoffs -- Four Operators to Get the Ax

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Four operators of the Valley's fledgling light-rail system and at least one supervisor will see their positions eliminated by next Friday, documents show.

Two other supervisor positions, which are currently unfilled, will also be eliminated.

The layoffs were ordered by Valley Metro Rail and announced in a letter to ACI, the Boston-based company that manages the light rail line. New Times obtained a copy from the union that represents light rail workers.

You can read the letter, sent by Valley Metro Rail Chief Transportation Officer Ray Abraham,
here. It was apparently hand-delivered to ACI last Thursday.

The layoffs are clearly a reaction to the financial troubles that have hit the 20-mile rail line, which opened in December. Even though ridership has exceeded expectations, as the Arizona Republic first reported, costs have done so, as well. (Electricity alone has cost 40 percent more than projected.) 

While not speaking to any specifics in the letter, Hillary Foose, a spokeswoman for Valley Metro Rail, said cost is a major issue: "I know Metro is working with its contractors, ACI being one of them, to see if there are cost savings they can make. ... It's a sign of tough economic times."

But the eliminated positions aren't just a sign of trouble -- they're very bad news for the 50 men and women who gave up positions driving the city's buses to take a chance on rail. All of them had high seniority with the bus system, which means that veteran employees may well be among the cuts here.

Bob Bean, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433, which represents the operators, fired off an angry missive to ACI on learning of the layoffs.

He also questioned why Valley Metro Rail -- and not ACI -- was dictating the layoffs.

"You held town hall meetings where you preached to these operators about how they were going to be treated, and when asked about continuous work you told them they had no worries," Bean wrote. "It is also my understanding that you are still having trouble covering ALL runs on a continuous basis so these proposed layoffs are totally senseless."

As we reported in April, it took the operators months longer than expected to get a contract, and during initial months, they labored with uncertain conditions and little job security. (The contract was finally signed in July.)

But it's unclear why Valley Metro, and not ACI, would be dictating layoffs; supposedly, ACI has full contract over the train's operators.

Union president Bob Bean raised that issue in his e-mail to ACI today.

"Unless you can show me in the RFP something that says that Valley Metro and Ray Abraham dictate the staffing needs of the trains, you are going to leave us no choice but to take this to a higher level," he warned.

We can only predict yet another chapter in what seems to be a trend around here: the poor working guys lose their jobs while the lawyers stay busier than ever. Sigh...

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