Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Sun-Times: CTA replacing outside security by hiring customer-service workers

During the past two or so months you may have seen posts advertising about the part-time Customer Service Assistant positions that the CTA had held job fairs for. Well this story will concern those of you who have pursued this opportunity!
Spurred by a deal with a key labor union, the transit agency has begun replacing hundreds of contract security guards it now uses to patrol L and subway stops with full- and part-time CTA customer-service employees. CTA officials say the move will make stations safer by putting security responsibilities in the hands of workers trained especially to do the CTA work.

The customer-service workers “will have roughly the same amount of training as the private security personnel, but that training will be specific to the CTA,” agency spokesman Brian Steele says.

The new workers will perform the same duties as the private security guards, according to Steele, and will be able to do other things, too — like retrieve items dropped on L tracks and help customers who are unfamiliar with ticket machines.

One difference: The CTA isn’t requiring its customer-service workers to get state security licenses — something the agency now requires under its private security guard contract with Securitas Security Services USA, and its minority subcontractor, Star Detective & Security Agency. The more than 450 full-time CTA rail guards employed by those companies all are licensed through the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, so they’re trained and screened under rules set by state law.

Not requiring that poses “a safety concern,” says James Huckabee, vice president of Star Detective, especially in light of so-called wilding incidents in which groups of teenagers get off the L and attack or harass people, and the Boston Marathon bombings, in which bombs were placed in backpacks.
The CTA plans to keep hiring outside security companies to provide guards working with dogs at train stops and has no plans to change that staffing. Securitas is in the final year of a five-year contract that paid it $1.7 million last year for that work, also with Star as its subcontractor. The contract is up in July.

Besides keeping the canine cops, the CTA has installed $26 million worth of high-definition video cameras at L and subway stations — a tool it didn’t have when Securitas was first hired in the late 1990s.

In February, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis found that crime at L stops was up 21 percent in 2012, but violent crime was down 30 percent. The most common offense — turnstile-jumping or other forms of fare evasion — soared by 41 percent, the analysis found.

The move to replace the 450-plus private security guards with CTA employees follows a Dec. 7 deal the agency reached with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308. The agreement calls for the CTA to employ a total of 240 full-time “customer-service representatives,” and nearly 700 new, part-time “customer-service assistants,” each who can work up to 32 hours a week.

The CTA plans to have the new hires in place this summer. More than 280 have been hired so far. 

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