A fired veteran Miami-Dade Transit bus driver, David Cruz, is trying to get his job back.
Cruz, 46, says he was recently dismissed recently after a series of events that began when a passenger, apparently well-known among some transit officials, complained that Cruz objected to the way he mounted his bike on a bus bicycle rack.
“He had good connections in the transit department and his complaint set in motion a series of events that eventually got me terminated,” Cruz said.
The case opens a window into the inner workings of Miami-Dade Transit, the county agency that operates Metrobus, Metrorail and Metromover. Cruz says his case also shows how transit managers sometimes can turn vindictive toward employees who fall out of favor. Some, like Cruz, then take their case to the media or sue the department.
Recently, Miami-Dade county commissioners agreed to pay a $9.9 million settlement with Marjan Mazza, a fired MDT employee, and the Federal Transit Administration to resolve the whistleblower lawsuit she filed after she was dismissed in 2010.
The settlement closed a chapter in one of the most significant scandals involving Miami-Dade Transit, one that exposed financial wrongdoing and weaknesses in the agency’s financial controls.
Cruz, who joined the transit agency in December 1986, is awaiting results of the arbitration process through which he is seeking reinstatement and back pay. As a Metrobus driver, Cruz said he earned $23.71 per hour. On average, Cruz made between $60,000 and $70,000 per year.
MDT took issue with Cruz’s description of his case, but did not address his point-by-point allegations.
An MDT official said in a statement: “Contrary to Mr. Cruz’s allegations, his discipline was administered in accordance with County administrative policies and procedures, and based on just cause. His termination from County service was the result of violation of County and operational work procedures regarding employee misconduct. Mr. Cruz’s dismissal is currently pending an appeal.”
Cruz recounted his story during a recent interview.
He said the problem began in 2012 in Miami Beach on the day the passenger placed his bicycle on the bus bike rack violation of county policy.
“The incident stemmed from the fact that when he wants to get on the bus, he wants to put the bike his way, which is against county policy,” Cruz said.
Under transit rules posted on the MDT website, if your bike is the first on the rack, you are to mount it on the slots nearest to the bus.
“He doesn’t want to do that,” said Cruz, recalling the episode. “He wants it to be put on the first one, facing the opposite way.”
Cruz said that when he told the man he was violating county policy, he threatened to complain to Sandra Washington, Cruz’s boss.
“Right away he said he was going to call Washington, that he had her number.” Cruz said.
Shortly after the encounter, Cruz was summoned to a meeting with several supervisors.
“I was basically told to let him do whatever he wants,” Cruz said.
A week later, however, Cruz said he was called in by Washington because she wanted to suspend him for “insubordination.” Cruz called his union representative to complain. Later, another meeting was called in which Washington was told to stand down because the issue had been resolved, Cruz said.
This intervention upset Washington and seemed to prompt her to scrutinize Cruz more closely, Cruz said.
“In a subsequent meeting with Chief Washington she vowed to personally handle any future complaints against me,” Cruz wrote in a memo to MDT administrators.
A few days later, however, Cruz had a second incident with the same passenger.
“He throws the rack down,” recalled Cruz. “He asks somebody off the street to put the bike the way he wants it. I wait for him to sit down. Once he sits down, I pull away from the curb. That’s when he jumps out of his seat and starts telling me ‘I’m a senior citizen. You shouldn’t be moving the bus until I’m seated’ and telling me ‘How come I’m still working. How come Sandra Washington hasn’t fired me?’ ”
Cruz said he did not respond to the diatribe, but that since the passenger refused to sit down, he stopped the bus.
“And I say, ‘Do me a favor, will you please have a seat?’ And that’s when he unleashed a stream of profanity at me.”
Cruz called supervisors on the radio to report the disturbance. He said bus dispatch called Miami Beach police. The police officer who responded ordered the passenger off the bus, Cruz said.
Since then, Cruz added, supervisors began compiling disciplinary action reports against him. Those reports led to a series of suspensions with and without pay. The reports ranged from minor to serious. Prior to the bike episode, Cruz said, his record had been largely clean.
“I have been a career county employee and bus driver for over 30 years,” Cruz wrote in a memo he sent to MDT chiefs Jan. 5. “My performance evaluation scores during my career average 90-100. I haven’t had a preventive accident in the last 15 years. …I have no past history of any repeat violations.”
In August 2013, Cruz received a five-day suspension for allegedly running ahead of schedule. From March 23 to April 4, 2014, Cruz was slapped with a 10-day suspension after being assaulted by a passenger.
Then, in October 2014, came the most serious episode: striking a pedestrian who walked in front of the slow-moving bus while texting on her cellphone. The pedestrian suffered minor injuries, and Cruz got a 15-day suspension.
In February, Cruz was summoned to MDT for a meeting in which supervisors offered him a “last-chance” package under which he would have been put back to work on a probationary basis.
Cruz said he rejected the offer because he did not see it as a way to resolve the matter, but to hasten his departure.
On Feb. 23, when Cruz called MDT to check on the status of his suspension, he said he was told that he had been “terminated.”
His case has since gone to arbitration. Cruz is now waiting for the date of the hearing.