LORTON, Va. – Hundreds of striking bus drivers with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority returned to the picket line at the Cinder Bed Road garage in Lorton this week after a short Thanksgiving break.
This is the first Metrobus strike in 41 years.
The strike by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 is now in its second month. It’s the result of the union’s first contract negotiations with Transdev, a French company subcontracted by WMATA to run the facility.
Workers are pushing for safer work conditions and the same pay and benefits as unionized Metro workers, according to Local 689 President Raymond Jackson.
“What Transdev is saying is not just that you make $12 an hour less than your counterparts,” he said, “but they’re saying, ‘We’re willing to pay you a grand total of 60 cents more over the next three years.'”
In an email statement, Transdev disputed the union’s claims, saying its wages and benefits are competitive with WMATA’s and that “the health and safety of our operators and our passengers are always our top priority.”
Jackson said members of ATU 1764 for Metro’s Fairfax Connector, which also is contracted out to Transdev, are preparing for a possible strike this week as well, over many of the same issues. He said privatizing WMATA routes has created unsafe workplaces, as companies like Transdev try to cut corners to make more money.
Citing a $6,000 health-insurance deductible as an example, Jackson called workers’ benefits inadequate.
“I don’t know anyone trying to raise a family who can afford, on a $20 an hour salary, to pay $6,000 in a deductible, just to see a doctor,” he said.
Meanwhile, Gov. Ralph Northam announced last week that he doesn’t support repealing the state’s so-called “right-to-work” law that forbids mandatory union membership – a law that labor leaders say weakens unions.