Bus Drivers' Strike Continues

By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Commuters who rely on Fairfax Connector buses could face another stressful commute today as about 150 bus drivers continue a strike that started yesterday.

The affected routes are mainly in the southern part of the county, with some routes continuing to run on a reduced-service Sunday schedule.

A Fairfax Connector spokeswoman said buses from the Huntington garage are being driven by supervisors, non-union drivers and drivers who chose to cross picket lines put up by Local 3001 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The contract between the union and Veolia Transportation, the contracted bus operator, expired Sunday, despite the efforts of a federal labor mediator.

Veolia has operated the bus service on behalf of Fairfax County since 2001. The bus serves about 20,000 commuters daily, said Beth Francis, a spokesman for Fairfax Connector.

Francis said there were lines at some bus stops and some buses were crowded, but she said riders were "fairly patient" yesterday.

Routes in the northern part of the county are not affected, because drivers out of the service's Herndon garage are covered under a different contract.

Mike Ake, a spokesman for Veolia, said the company offered a "very generous financial offer, a comprehensive one with wage increases and a greater contribution toward medical costs. It was refused outright."

Ake said the company and union were negotiating a new three-year contract when it became clear over the weekend that they were not going to come to an agreement.

Charles Smith, a lawyer negotiating on behalf of the drivers, said the company's offer included a less generous health care package and did not address their main request: a pension plan with defined benefits, similar to the one covering Metrobus drivers.

Smith said drivers were willing to exchange personal days and accept a lower wage increase for the pension benefit.

"There are operators who have been working here for 20 years who will retire with nothing,'' Smith said.

Service will not be offered today on routes 109, 161, 162, 231, 232, 301, 303, 304, 305, 306, 307, 331, 332 and 380, and VRE EZ-Bus North and South.

A Sunday schedule will be in effect for routes 101, 151, 152, 171, 310, 321, 322 and 401.

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