Morale at HART at an "all-time low"? CEO Phillip Hale disagrees …

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  • HART CEO Philip Hale

In October, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) and one of its main unions, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1593, signed a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that will run into Sept. 30, 2015.

But according to Colin Brown, the Vice President of ATU Local 1593, HART management has been uncooperative in trying to resolve a series of issues since that signing.

"The constant disrespect the ATU is exposed to, almost daily, is becoming a bigger and bigger issue," Brown told the HART board Monday morning, referring to instances in which HART management is not sticking specifically to the language of the CBA.

HART CEO Philip Hale later responded to the charges on a point by point basis, saying the sour grapes probably emanate from dissatisfaction with the recent CBA.

Let's look at the charges the union made today and Hale's responses:

The union contends that HART sends them incomplete information regarding complaints filed by bus passengers. "When we receive paperwork, the information from the person that filed the complaint is missing and we're not able to conduct own investigation," says Martinez.

But Hale says that only deals with "paratransit" (disabled) passengers, citing a statute that prohibits the release of specific passenger information. That's not the case with regular bus passengers, something Hale says he already explained to the union.

Brown also charged that HART management has failed to address issues regarding the clean up of asbestos on Tampa streetcars, prompting him to ask, "Does an employee or his/her family member have to be diagnosed with cancer before HART treats this problem with some urgency and give it the priority it deserves?"

Hale says that he was the one who originally researched the issue back in 2009 or 2010 and learned that there was "significant" asbestos problems, and he's been trying to clean up the streetcars ever since. The reason the cleanup isn't finished yet is that many of the components on the cars are obsolete, forcing the city to replace the insulation one car at a time while removing them from service. "It's taken a hell of a long time," Hale acknowledges, though he points out that HART is operating within OSHA regulations.

The ATU also alleges that HART management has neglected to improve the safety harnesses used by employees when working on TECO Streetcars, which Hale calls "a pretty bizarre statement," saying that the problem has been addressed.

Nevertheless, that statement by Hale prompted HART board member and Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe to ask the HART staff for an investigation into those latter two claims.

Another issue that bothers the ATU's Carlitos Martinez' is the much-hyped One Bus Away app that HART introduced this past summer. It uses GPS technology to provide real-time bus locations to riders, letting them know how soon a bus will be coming. The union charges, however, that HART is using the technology to penalize drivers it says are not completing their routes in a timely fashion.

Martinez says that's unfair because the system cannot provide 100 percent location accuracy. "No GPS will put you in an exact location," he contends, saying he learned in the military that GPS cannot provide that pinpoint data.

Hale acknowledges that GPS is not accurate enough for military usage, but says it works just fine for determining where a particular bus is located at any given time.

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