Engineers and conductors on Southern California’s commuter rail service are threatening a boycott of new personality profiling tests required as a result of the 2008 Chatsworth disaster.
The dispute sets up a potentially major labor-management clash just as the five-county Metrolink system is shifting to a new contractor to provide crews for trains that have nearly 1 million boardings a month.
[Updated at 8:01 p.m. An earlier version of this post said there were nearly 1 million boardings a year.]
The screening tests, frequently used by corporate managers to gauge the suitability of job applicants, are already required by Amtrak, the incoming operating contractor, when it hires engineers and conductors.
But two powerful railroad unions are strongly objecting to a Metrolink-Amtrak agreement finalized last week. It requires experienced crew members on the regional rail service to take and pass the tests to continue working on the system. Some have worked on Metrolink trains for years.
“We are not going to be taking these tests,” said Tim Smith, California legislative chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. “That’s it. We’ll see where it ends.”
“We’re all going to stand together,” said Ray Garcia of the United Transportation Union, which represents the conductors.
Union leaders say that, unless the dispute is resolved, Amtrak may not be able to field qualified train crews when it takes over operations this summer. Amtrak is set to assume operation of the 500-mile Metrolink system July 1. Connex Railroad, the current operator, opted not to pursue a contract extension when it’s relationship with Metrolink soured after the Chatsworth crash, which killed 25 and injured 135.
Metrolink board members say safety must come first, but they are likely to revisit the testing issue to ensure it is fair to the approximately 130 engineers and conductors now working on their trains.