A ten­ta­tive

STRIKE IN N.VA. BE­GAN IN OC­TO­BER Metro con­trac­tor reaches ten­ta­tive deal with union

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY JUSTIN GE­ORGE

deal be­tween a Metro con­trac­tor and a tran­sit union is ex­pected to end a strike at a North­ern Vir­ginia bus garage.

Metrobus garage work­ers in North­ern Vir­ginia ended nearly three months of pick­et­ing and protest­ing Tues­day af­ter a lo­cal tran­sit union and a Metro con­trac­tor reached a ten­ta­tive agree­ment on worker pay and benefits, ac­cord­ing to the tran­sit union that rep­re­sents the work­ers.

The con­tract, a col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment with con­trac­tor Trans­dev that sets guide­lines on an­nual raises and calls for an im­proved benefits pack­age, still needs to be rat­i­fied by mem­bers of the union, ATU Lo­cal 689. A vote is ex­pected to take place on Thurs­day, said Win­ston Ni­chols,

a Metrobus op­er­a­tor at the garage and part of the union’s con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tion team.

“ATU Lo­cal 689 is proud to an­nounce that we have reached a ten­ta­tive agree­ment with Trans­dev that cov­ers the work­ers at WMATA’S Cin­der Bed Road Fa­cil­ity,” the union said in a state­ment. “The work­ers have been on strike for over 82 days — the long­est tran­sit strike in this re­gion’s his­tory. The Cin­der Bed work­ers’ brave stand against pri­va­ti­za­tion in­spired mes­sages of sup­port and sol­i­dar­ity from across the globe. The ten­ta­tive agree­ment in­cludes im­proved health care and re­tire­ment plans along with sub­stan­tial wage in­creases.”

A Trans­dev spokes­woman said late Tues­day af­ter­noon that noth­ing has been fi­nal­ized but that “we are hope­ful that we will have an agree­ment very soon.”

Nearly 130 em­ploy­ees at the Cin­der Bed Road Metrobus garage in Lor­ton had been on strike since Oct. 24, protest­ing a lack of an­nual raises and a benefits pack­age they say is not on par with those of other area tran­sit work­ers. Their stand­off with Trans­dev, a multi­na­tional trans­porta­tion com­pany that Metro hired in 2018 to over­see the garage, led to the can­cel­la­tion or dras­tic ser­vice cut­backs of 18 routes, mostly in North­ern Vir­ginia, that are man­aged from the garage.

Union rep­re­sen­ta­tives said bus op­er­a­tors plan to wait un­til Thurs­day’s vote on the agree­ment be­fore re­turn­ing to work. Bus rid­ers ea­ger to get back to their old com­mut­ing rou­tines should ex­pect at least two more days of can­celed or lim­ited routes.

The strike was the first for Metro in more than 40 years, and it had re­sulted in protests at Metro board meet­ings, out­side the Wash­ing­ton Metropoli­tan Area Tran­sit Author­ity’s head­quar­ters and even at Metro board mem­bers’ homes. Ne­go­ti­a­tions had stalled sev­eral times, and late last year, a fed­eral me­di­a­tor was brought in to help both sides restart con­tract talks.

Tues­day was the first sched­uled day of ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the two sides this year, and it re­sulted in a break­through.

“Word that Trans­dev and the Union have reached an agree­ment is good news for all in­volved,” Metro spokesman Dan Stes­sel said in a state­ment. “Upon rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the deal, we ex­pect Trans­dev to pro­vide their plan to re­store bus routes to full ser­vice as quickly and safely as pos­si­ble. Based on Trans­dev’s plan, we will keep cus­tomers up­dated [on] a time­line for ser­vice restora­tion in the com­ing days.”

Union mem­bers said they were pleased not only to reach an agree­ment that would get Cin­der Bed Road work­ers bet­ter salaries and benefits but also to have made a stand in the re­gion against the pri­va­ti­za­tion of pub­lic ser­vices.

Union mem­bers did not dis­close any specifics of the deal, which they said still need to be worked out.

“Our mem­bers at Cin­der Bed Road sac­ri­ficed for months to en­sure that pub­lic tran­sit ca­reers were steady paths to the mid­dle class. With this ten­ta­tive agree­ment it so­lid­i­fies that tran­sit com­pa­nies can’t cut costs at the ex­pense of work­ers’ abil­ity to feed their fam­i­lies,” said Ray­mond Jack­son, pres­i­dent and busi­ness agent of ATU Lo­cal 689.

For months, strik­ing work­ers — along with frus­trated rid­ers and some of the area’s elected of­fi­cials — had called on Metro to in­ter­vene and ei­ther com­pel Trans­dev to come to an agree­ment or to re­scind its con­tract with the com­pany. The garage, built on Cin­der Bed Road in Fair­fax County, opened in 2018 and is the only pri­va­tized part of Metro’s main rail or bus ser­vice.

Metro Gen­eral Man­ager Paul J. Wiede­feld re­peat­edly de­clined to in­ter­vene in the work stop­page, say­ing it was a le­gal con­tract mat­ter be­tween two par­ties and not Metro. Wiede­feld did, how­ever, work with ATU Lo­cal 689 and com­mit­ted in the long term to stop out­sourc­ing the garage’s op­er­a­tions. It’s not clear when that will oc­cur, though Trans­dev’s three-year con­tract ends next year.

That com­mit­ment, which came in an un­re­lated agree­ment be­tween Metro and the union on Dec. 10, put pres­sure on all par­ties in­volved in the Cin­der Bed Road garage work stop­page to come to an agree­ment, lead­ing to the res­o­lu­tion Tues­day, ac­cord­ing to Metro of­fi­cials and union mem­bers.

Even through the hol­i­days, the strik­ing work­ers never aban­doned the picket lines, and they were out­side of Metro’s fa­cil­i­ties with signs even as ne­go­tia­tors were ham­mer­ing out a res­o­lu­tion be­hind closed doors.

“I left the strike line at about 1 [p.m.] and I’m at the gym now,” a sur­prised op­er­a­tor, Al­bert Ruf­fin, said Tues­day evening. “This is some news.”

The pick­ets sur­vived more than two months with­out a pay­check with the help of a union hard­ship fund, which was funded through do­na­tions from guild mem­bers across the coun­try. Some took other jobs, while oth­ers in­creased their hours driv­ing for Uber or Lyft. Some strik­ing work­ers took out new credit cards or bor­rowed money from fam­ily mem­bers to pay bills.

Rid­ers of can­celed routes have strug­gled to get to work. Many telecom­muted, some car­pooled or “slugged” into the District, and a num­ber of rid­ers drove to their near­est Metro­rail sta­tion, of­ten re­sult­ing in park­ing fees or longer com­mut­ing times.

Chris John­son, an in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy worker for the U.S. Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment, bought his An­nan­dale home 15 years ago, partly be­cause it was near a con­ve­nient bus stop. Since the strike, he said, he has been forced to drive and make a gam­ble ev­ery day on whether he should pay ex­pen­sive tolls to ac­cess ex­press­ways to save time or re­main in clogged traf­fic and risk ar­riv­ing late to pick up his kids and a day-care late fee.

“At the end of the day I’m glad it’s over, but changes need to be made in over­sight to make sure it doesn’t hap­pen again,” he said.

JUSTIN GE­ORGE/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Win­ston Ni­chols, a Metrobus op­er­a­tor at the Cin­der Bed Road garage, speaks at a rally Nov. 6 out­side Metro’s D.C. head­quar­ters.

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