Kathy Posner

In response to why the CTA hired back three bus drivers who had lost their commercial driver’s licenses (CDL) because of DUI convictions off duty, CTA President Richard Rodriguez said, “What we did is something that we never do." Well, you did do it; so how can you say you never do it? Never means never! The Better Government Association and FOX Chicago News made public last week an investigation that called the process of allowing the drivers to get their jobs back, ” a lesson in Chicago-style backroom wheeling and dealing.” I have written many blogs about mismanagement, bloated salaries, executive perks, etc. at the CTA. I have also commented that I do not use the CTA and now hearing about the driving records of the three drivers in question, I am glad I don’t! CTA rules state that any driver who does not have a valid CDL for 180 days can be terminated. The three bus drivers in question were all charged with drunk driving while off-duty and were subsequently fired after they lost their CDLs. The BGA/FOX report revealed, “CTA President Rich Rodriguez said the agency took the extraordinary step of rehiring those drivers as something of an olive branch. Earlier this year, the CTA was millions of dollars in the red and needed to restructure its labor agreements. Rodriguez said they allowed the former employees with DUI's to get back behind the wheel as an enticement to get the Amalgamated Transit Union to the bargaining table to talk about furlough days and cutbacks.” So Rodriguez risked the safety of thousands of bus passengers as a negotiating tool. So while the streets of Chicago are already not safe because of crime; now they are not safe because of incompetent of CTA drivers! Doesn’t working from home sound better now? Better Government Association Executive Director Andy Shaw said, "It's important for organizations like the CTA to maintain good relationships with their unions, and I'm all for that. But you don't buy labor peace by jeopardizing the safety of riders by rehiring people with drunken driving records." In the story that aired on FOX Chicago News, they tracked down one of the drivers, Marilyn Smith. She was busted for DUI on July 4, 2008. Fox reporter Dane Placko said, “According to police reports Smith had a blood-alcohol level of .14, well over the legal limit of .08. Smith told us she had had a beer and a shot when she was arrested while off-duty, but disputed whether that amount of alcohol should even warrant a DUI. ‘I was not drunk,’ she said. ‘Two beers will give you a DUI? So the whole city is driving drunk.’ “ Maybe with the exception of me because I have not had a beer in at least 20 years! The report concluded with, “Not only did the three bus drivers with DUI's get their jobs back; they also received a total of $70,000 in back pay, according to a CTA spokesperson. The three were among a total of ten fired employees the CTA agreed to rehire at the union's behest. Rodriguez said he tried to stop the reinstatement when he learned some of the employees had DUI's but the process was too far along. The union filed a lawsuit and the CTA agreed to take all the employees back.” Rodriguez admitted that,”What we did is something that we never do. We have rules and that's why they are in place, and we were willing to bend the rules in order to try to... avoid the mass layoffs.” According to records compiled for the Tribune by the Federal Transit Administration, CTA buses have been involved in more collisions annually since 2008 than buses operated by the nine other largest public bus systems in the United States.. Do the DUI convictions of some drivers have anything to do with that? So the CTA was willing to jeopardize safety for peace. Imagine what it will cost the city in a lawsuit if one of those reinstated drivers is an accident that kills someone? Since Chicago is self-insured it will have to pay millions in settlement. I wonder if the 2011 budget has a line item for that?

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