Miami-Dade’s transit union claims it has pressed county administrators to spend more money hiring safety monitors for construction sites next to Metromover tracks, like the one involved in a fatal train collision early Wednesday morning.
“They’re using unqualified workers,” said Jeffery Mitchell, vice president of rail for Miami-Dade’s Transport Workers Union 291. “We knew at some point that was going to happen. I’m sorry someone had to die.”
Mitchell’s allegation centers on Miami-Dade shifting to what he said are lower-paid and less-experienced employees to fill “spotter” slots charged with helping prevent the kind of contact between a Metromover car and construction equipment that killed a 43-year-old man in downtown Miami.
“The administration will wait to review the conclusions of the investigations," said county spokesman Michael Hernandez. "We will not be politicizing a tragedy. "
It’s not know whether monitors had any role in Wednesday’s operations or were even supposed to be on duty during the overnight shift for a driverless train system that shuts down at midnight on weekdays.
Oscar Cabrera, 43, and Luis Perez, 37, were on a construction boom when an empty Metromover car, which are machine-operated, collided with the equipment around 1 a.m. Cabrera died at Jackson Memorial’s Ryder Trauma Center, while Perez was treated and released.
Safety has always been a top priority for Miami-Dade Transit, and we will continue to put safety first in all that we do.
Alice Bravo, director of Transportation and Public Works
The two were part of the massive building effort by Suffolk Construction for Miami Central Station, a downtown train depot and commercial complex at Northwest Fifth Street and First Avenue serving the new for-profit Brightline railway running between Miami and Orlando.
The workers were ejected in the collision, with one dangling from the side of the boom. He was helped to the ground by co-workers, according to rescuers.
“When we arrived, they were already on the ground,” Miami Fire Rescue spokesman Capt. Ignatius Carroll told reporters.
Hours after the crash, which shut down Metromover’s popular inner loop through downtown, the orange, open-air car attached to the boom could be seen resting over the Metromover car, with a broken windshield and cracked front section. Transit officials said the car was making a maintenance run during the collision.
Mitchell said TWU, which walked away from contract negotiations with Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s administration in late December, wants Miami-Dade to revert back to higher pay and permanent slots for the spotter positions, known as “Construction and Facilities Monitors.”
He said Miami-Dade created the job at a lower pay grade in late 2014 as a way to save costs in the cash-strapped transit agency. Before then, Miami-Dade used rail technicians to also monitor construction sites.
We knew at some point that was going to happen. I’m sorry someone had to die.
With the lower pay, veteran transit workers passed on the work, pursuing shifts in better-paying positions. “They’re there to make sure the people doing construction work don’t interfere with the train,” Mitchell said. “You have to know how to anticipate and be alert, because bad things happen.”
TWU declared an impasse in county negotiations in December, a step that could bring the contract matter before the County Commission.
Miami-Dade police, Miami-Dade Transit and OSHA are investigating Wednesday’s accident. In a statement, Alice Bravo, head of the county’s Department of Transportation and Public Works, emphasized the agency’s focus on safety.
“We are saddened by this tragic incident,” she said. “We are cooperating with the investigating authorities. Safety has always been a top priority for Miami-Dade Transit, and we will continue to put safety first in all that we do.”