Metro union: Blood on hands of board, man­age­ment

Demon­stra­tion in re­sponse to change in pen­sion poli­cies

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY JASON TIDD

About 30 Metro work­ers — their hands and shirts stained with fake blood — accused the board of di­rec­tors and man­age­ment on Thurs­day of try­ing to kill the tran­sit sys­tem and its union.

“Stop. Stop what you’re do­ing with the work­ers,” said one mem­ber of Amal­ga­mated Tran­sit Union Lo­cal 689 at Thurs­day’s Metro board meet­ing. “Be­cause with­out the work­ers, you do not have a sys­tem.”

The demon­stra­tion was in re­sponse to Metro Gen­eral Man­ager Paul Wiede­feld’s call for keep­ing the cur­rent pen­sion pro­gram for re­tirees and work­ers but shift­ing to a 401k-style re­tire­ment plan for new hires, who would be re­quired to con­trib­ute to the new pro­gram.

In his April 19 pro­posal, Mr. Wiede­feld said the per­pet­u­ally cash­strapped tran­sit agency faces a $1 bil­lion un­funded pen­sion li­a­bil­ity and a $1.8 bil­lion li­a­bil­ity for re­tiree and other post-em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits. He said his plan would fore­stall a fu­ture fi­nan­cial cri­sis, al­low com­pet­i­tive bid­ding be­tween the union and pri­vate busi­nesses for new ser­vices and per­mit a change in the ar­bi­tra­tion process.

“The union pre­sen­ta­tion that we heard about the pen­sion fund, I want the record to show that we had writ­ten two let­ters to the trustees to come be­fore my pen­sion sub­com­mit­tee, and they have fallen upon deaf ears,” said board mem­ber Tom Bul­ger, pres­i­dent of the D.C. lob­by­ing firm Gov­ern­ment Re­la­tions Inc.

Over the past year, Metro has elim­i­nated 800 jobs and has told work­ers that they are con­sid­ered “at will” em­ploy­ees, mean­ing they can be fired more eas­ily than in years past.

About a dozen work­ers signed up to speak dur­ing the meet­ing’s public com­ment pe­riod, and one took is­sue with the two-minute time limit.

“Two min­utes? Come on,” he said. “Ob­vi­ously, you, the board, don’t want to hear from us.”

He spoke for al­most dou­ble his al­lot­ted time, read­ing ex­cerpts of two news sto­ries about Metro’s fail­ures while de­fend­ing union work­ers.

“Pay the work­ers their due fare,” he said.

Be­fore the public meet­ing and dur­ing the board’s ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion, the union staged a mock fu­neral, com­plete with fake tomb­stones in­scribed with “Mid­dle Class Jobs,” “Safety,” “Re­li­able Ser­vice” and “Col­lec­tive Bar­gain­ing Rights.”

“This is what Metro’s do­ing to the union and to the work­ers, they’re killing them,” one union mem­ber said af­ter the meet­ing. “The blood is on Metro’s hands … the board of di­rec­tors and man­age­ment. Ev­ery­thing that hap­pened, the blood is on Metro’s hands.”

Thurs­day marked the eighth an­niver­sary of the Fort Tot­ten Metro sta­tion crash, which killed nine pas­sen­gers and in­jured 52 others.

Mean­while, Mr. Wiede­feld noted that Sun­day marks the start of new ser­vice hours and a fare in­crease as the year­long SafeTrack main­te­nance pro­gram comes to an end. The 40-year-old tran­sit sys­tem also will be­gin its first pre­ven­tive main­te­nance in­spec­tion pro­gram.

The new hours:

● Mon­day-Thurs­day, 5 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

● Fri­day, 5 a.m. to 1 a.m.

● Satur­day, 7 a.m. to 1 a.m.

● Sun­day, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Most Metrorail fares will in­crease 10 to 25 cents. Metrobus fares will in­crease 25 cents.

Mr. Wiede­feld also said Metro is pre­pared for the Fourth of July, but he did not say if the rail sys­tem will ex­pand its hours. Fire­works are sup­posed to start around 9 p.m. on the hol­i­day, while Metro cur­rently is sched­uled to close at 11:30 p.m.

He told the board that the credit rat­ing agen­cies Stan­dard and Poor’s and Fitch re­cently up­graded Metro to AA-.

Mr. Wiede­feld’s plan calls for a bond­able $500 mil­lion per year of ded­i­cated cap­i­tal fund­ing from the re­gional gov­ern­ments and an ad­di­tional $150 mil­lion an­nu­ally from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. Metro is the only ma­jor public trans­porta­tion sys­tem in the U.S. with­out a ded­i­cated source of fund­ing.

Ten Mary­land Democrats pro­posed on Mon­day that Mary­land, Vir­ginia and the District split the amount equally, which would al­low each ju­ris­dic­tion to raise its por­tion — $170 mil­lion — of Metro fund­ing by its own meth­ods.

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