Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

WMATA station manager sleeps on the job at the Anacostia Metro station

October 31, 2011 - 11:25 AM
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Head back in slumber. (Photo: YouTube/MeanBlackDude)

The idea of sleeping at work is, universally, an attractive concept. An entire episode of Seinfeld revolves around the character of George Costanza attempting to craft a sleeping den under his office desk.

Yet most employers frown on the behavior — WMATA disapproves of such salary-funded slumber but its Metro station managers continue to run into trouble. Earlier this fall, two photos of snoozing station managers at Columbia Heights and Ballston first posted on Unsuck D.C. Metro caused WMATA to respond with a statement of condemnation. The transit agency successfully identified the two workers but both remained on the job. I spoke with WMATA chief spokesperson Dan Stessel about the incident and he told me that "appropriate action" was taken against them but that "we don't get into detail about exactly what action was taken" due to employee privacy concerns.

Another Metro employee, however, has apparently been caught in the act. A source has passed along the following video, showing the same condemned behavior just two months later. A Metro rider captured 41 seconds of video here, hosted on AccessTheDMV and uploaded by YouTube user MeanBlackDude (whom I've interviewed before and is the MetroAccess driver named Leslie) on October 27. The video alleges to show the Anacostia Metro station at 12:30 a.m. on October 23.

Here's the dimly lit video of a station manager sleeping on the job:

"This is the Anacostia station," the rider says in the video. "Right now I'm just walking around the station ... I noticed the station manager asleep. I'm actually going to walk up closer to show you he's actually asleep, in the booth ... He's obviously sleeping, that's all I wanted to say."

The rider then picks up a pass to further he's in the D.C. Metro and quickly rushes off to catch a train he hears arriving. The manager appears to have his head tilted back and to have the yellow vest pulled over him like a blanket.

WMATA's Stessel told me that, in the case of such photos and videos, it helps for riders to identify themselves and provide details to Metro, which helps the transit agency to "build an administrative case" and "to get a sense of when and where" about the incidents. WMATA successfully reached out to both photographers who had snapped the initial photos.

Stessel said that WMATA takes these incidents seriously due to how they affect the broader perception of the transit agency, which has around 11,000 employees. He referred to the "unsung heroes" who help customers and perform admirable acts within the system. He suspects that these cases of sleeping station managers comprise isolated incidents rather than a common trend, in part because many WMATA employees do realize that people can record their behavior and publicize it online. In the past two months, I've kept my eyes open for sleeping station managers when passing through the system and haven't seen any. Stessel hadn't yet been aware of any reports of sleeping station managers at Anacostia but told me WMATA plans to look into the video.

Why sleep at work? I suspect it's often not the intention of these Metro station managers. The one pictured here was allegedly shown after midnight. I can imagine how, sitting for so long, a worker might begin to drift off, especially if there aren't many riders coming through the station. But these few public cases don't look good and don't inspire confidence in the system, as Stessel himself is well aware. Alone in a booth, many managers may not worry over accountability. But station managers are supposed to be monitoring the station and on hand for any problems. Why else include so many monitors within the booths? If a technical problem breaks out, if a crime is happening, if a Metro rider has lost an item and needs to report it or if a SmarTrip card isn't working, the system's station managers should be there and aware. Safe, efficient stations call for alert, well-rested Metro employees. These people may be tired but so are many workers in any job. Ultimately, they're still getting paid for their sleep in these documented cases. Perhaps they should invest that payment in a strong cup of coffee before heading into work?

"It just takes a few bad apples to get the public to raise questions," Stessel correctly noted.

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