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Via DRPT Newsletter – Washington Post Article “Metrobus lines, contract negotiations remain shut down as strike continues”
A Metrobus garage strike continued for a fifth day Monday, leaving 15 routes in Northern Virginia shut down and three others on limited service. Metrobus operators, mechanics and utility workers at the Cinder Bed garage in Lorton have been on strike since Thursday, seeking better wages, benefits and working conditions. More than 130 employees work out of the two-year-old garage, which is run by Transdev, a French multinational company contracted by Metro that also runs the Fairfax Connector and other regional bus lines.
Negotiations to create a collective bargaining agreement between ATU Local 689, the union that represents Cinder Bed garage workers, and Transdev had been ongoing since early this year until Saturday, when both sides stopped talks.
In a statement, Transdev said it had bargained “in good faith” throughout 65 hours of negotiations between Wednesday and Saturday hoping, but ultimately failing, to come to an agreement.
“The Company believed the best course of action was to break at that point in time and resume negotiations later after both sides had a chance to reassess their positions,” Transdev spokeswoman Mitun Seguin said.
She said the company remained “hopeful” that the break would help discussions, which are scheduled to resume Thursday and Friday.
On ATU Local 689’s Facebook page, the group posted a photo Monday of striking workers and the message: “Day 5. We’re still here and ready to fight!”
“WMATA and Transdev clearly underestimated how strong these workers were,” the union’s political organizer, Brian Wivell, told The Washington Post. “Even after five days, they’re able to shut down almost every route.”
The routes affected by the strike are nearly 6 percent of Metro’s 325 total bus routes in the D.C. area. The following routes remained shut down Monday, according to a Metro advisory for riders: 17B, 17G, 17H, 17K, 17L, 17M, 18G, 18H, 18J, 18P, 29C, 29G, 29W, S80 and S91 (TAGS). Routes 29N, 29K and REX operated on a limited schedule.
The routes were expected to remain disrupted Tuesday, and an advisory on Metro’s website about the changes was listed as being in effect for the entire workweek. Metro said riders can check service on their routes at wmata.com/ schedules.
Metro contracted services at the Cinder Bed facility to “control cost growth while delivering quality service and preserving employees’ jobs,” the transit authority said in August 2018 after awarding Transdev an $89 million contract for three years, plus two one-year options.
Metro stated that privatizing the operations would save the transit authority $15 million over five years. With Metro’s operational costs increasing annually while farebox revenue remain flat, officials said the savings would stave off the need for layoffs “by avoiding additional pension and retirement benefits.”
Union officials say Cinder Bed workers do the same jobs as Metro-paid operators but are paid about $20 an hour, while Metrobus operators can earn up to $33 an hour. DASH operators can make even more, union officials said. Transdev officials have said that its wages and benefits are consistent with operations across the region.
As part of the contract Transdev signed with Metro, the company must be prepared for emergencies, including the possibility of a strike, according to a contract clause that Metro provided The Washington Post.
The contract calls for a “strike contingency plan” that “at a minimum” should include names, addresses and telephone numbers of possible subcontractors or people that Transdev intends to hire to replace striking workers. It also requires that Metro receive “assurance that all temporary or replacement personnel (including subcontractor personnel) will be available, meet the experience, and mechanical license requirements defined herein.”
Metro’s contract also included consequences for falling short of expectations such as on-time performance.
Asked if the company was facing fines or other repercussions, Metro said in a statement Monday that it “is continuing to review the contingency plan and contract performance.” The transit agency referred other inquiries about the contingency plan and bus service on affected routes to Transdev, which did not answer specific questions.
Union officials called on Metro to revoke Transdev’s contract.
“We’re just looking for a fair contract that recognizes that these Cinder Bed workers deserve exactly what WMATA workers earn,” Wivell said. “This company has repeatedly failed to deliver their contractual service and shouldn’t be part of the WMATA system.”