STRIKE IN N.VA. BEGAN IN OCTOBER Metro contractor reaches tentative deal with union
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.
Winston Nichols, a Metrobus operator at the Cinder Bed Road garage, speaks at a rally Nov. 6 outside Metro’s D.C. headquarters.