Last Monday morning, about 50 striking Metrobus drivers and mechanics at the Prince George's bus garage were visited by a Metro official who demanded that the crowd listen to what he had to say.
"I know what you're going through because I was a bus operator myself," said Robert Dickerson, Metro's superintendent of bus drivers and mechanics. "But right now, you got somebody else talking for you and somebody else thinking for you. You can't even think for yourselves."
As Dickerson spoke, expressions of anger ripped through the crowd. "Metro is always trying to make us feel stupid," one driver said later. "They try to embarrass us because we belong to Local 922 and they want to get rid of our union. But 922 is a family and we're going to stick together."
When Metro took over the WMA Transit Co. in suburban Maryland in February 1973, the 180 bus drivers and 35 mechanics in Prince George's who belonged to Teamsters Local 922 chose to remain in the small union to avoid loss of seniority and some medical benefits. The majority of Metro's employes - about 4,500 people - are represented by Local 689 of the Amalgamated Transit Union. Generally, the labor contracts and policies that govern Metrobus drivers and mechanics have been negotiated with Metro by 689, and Local 922 has followed along.
Drivers and mechanics in the Prince George's bus garage who went on wildcat strike last week said their dispute with Metro goes beyond the controversial cost-of-living increase that was the central issue in the walkout. The Prince George's drivers maintain that their union - Local 922 - is the that their union - Local 622 - is the stepchild in the Metro system and that through subtle means, Metro is trying stepchild in the Metro system and that through subtle means, Metro is trying to "phase out" its Prince George's division.
"A number of us have requested a transfer to the Metro subway when it comes into Prince George's County," said a bus driver, who has worked for Metro and its predecessor for 10 years. "Metro told us that we would have to get out of our union and join 689 before we can drive a train."
A mechanic, an 18-year-old veteran of the shop, said mechanics in the Prince George's division work under the strain of labor shortages and defective equipment.
Eddie Kornegay, president and business agent of Local 922, said he is not aware of efforts by Metro to eliminate his union. But Kornegay said he is aware of a "slight resentment" of the union by the transit authority.
"Generally speaking, it's a fact that Metro would enjoy having only one union to deal with," said Kornegay. "Historically, we've allowed 689 to arbitrate a contract and we've adopted the award. Some of the health benefits we had negotiated before Metro took over far exceed the benefits received by members of 689."
Kornegay said it was unlikely that bus service would be cut back in Prince George's. "Prince George's has paid a great deal of money for Metro bus and rail service," he said. "I don't know if they could get rid of the P.G. bus division if they wanted to."
Kornegay said he feels that Metro's policy that only members of Local 639 be allowed to operate subway trains is unfair. He said the union is currently exploring a means for having the policy changed by the time the New Carrollton Metro subway route opens in Prince George's County later this year.
Dee Allison, transit administrator for the Prince George's County Department of Public Works and Transportation, also said there are no current plans to either end bus service in the county or to phase out the existing Metro bus garage.
"Drivers from the Prince George's division come out with some weird stories," said Allison. "We get letters from bus riders who say they've been told by the drivers that bus service in the county is going to be terminated. But we don't know where these stories are coming from."
However, Allison said that under a long-range proposal still being developed, the county would eventually build a new 250-bus garage in the New Carrollton area.This garage would eventually replace the existing 160-bus Prince George's garage at the District line at 4421 Southern Ave. SE. If the new garage is built, the county would have to decide which union should have jurisdiction over it, Allison said.