Striking Metro workers voted last night to continue the four-day old bus and subway strike that has tied up traffic and frayed nerves throughout the metropolitan area.
After a one-hour meeting at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, 200 to 300 workers voted overwhelmingly to continue their strike, defyong U.S. District Court Judge Louis F. Oberdorfer's order that they return to work or face contempt of court citations.
"We consider this a big step backward," Metro spokesman Cody Pfanstiehl said moments after the meeting ended. Pfanstiehl said that pickets would be served by U.S. marshals with a temporary restraining order barring any strike activity. Persons who already have been served wtih that order, Pfanstiehl said, would be served with a summons ordering them to appear in court and show cause why they should not be held in contempt for violating Oberdorfer's order.
Since the turnout at last night's meeting represented less than 10 percent of the 4,500 striking bus and train operators and mechanics, it was not clear whether the strike would continue with the same strength that it has had since Thursday.
The striking workers rejected a plea from William T. Scoggin, who had been spokesman until he was replace Saturday night, that they return to work and give him a mandate to work out their grievances in the next two months.
The workers instead backed Eugene Ray, Scoggin's replacement, who said two issues must be settled before they return to work - payment of a cost-of-living increase due Metro workers July 2, and granting of amnesty to 180 workers who were suspended by Metro when they walked off their jobs.
"It is imperative that all the wildcat strikers receive 100 per cent - not 50 per cent - 100 per cent amnesty, without having to go through the long process of union grievances," Ray said.
He apologized to Metro riders for the strike. "We are very sorry for inconveniencing you this way," he said. "We hope you understand our dilemma, but we are only going back to work when our conditions are met."
Ray said after the meeting that strikers would be out in force this morning at their district bus yards, but would not picket.
At a hearing in U.S. District Court on Saturday, Oberdorfer ordered the union to tell its members that their strike is illegal, but that they have recourse through grievance procedures and the courts to resolve disputes.
Oberdorfer threatened strikers with fines and jail sentences if they continued their illegal action. But he also chastised Metro and Local 689 of the Amalgamated Transit Union for failing to settle the issue that brought on the Strike - 20 cent-per-hour cost-of-living pay increases that were to have become effective July 2.
Oberdorfer ordered the union and Metro to tell him by 11 a.m. today how they plan to have arbitration started by July 31 on the cost-of-living issue.He ordered the arbitration to be settled by Aug.6.
Buses from the Arlington division, one of eight divisions in the area, operated with a near-normal schedule yestrerday in what initially looked like an indication that the strike might be drawing to a close.
In addition, 25 of 38 mechanics scheduled to work in all eight divisions reported to work yesterday. Since mechanics from the bus and subway systems were the first to go on strike Wednesday, Metro officials took their their return yesterday as a sign that striking workers would comply with Oberdorfer's no-strike order issued Thursday.
In addition, striking workers at the Southeastern division, at 77 M St.SE, met yesterday and voted to return to work shortly after midnight Sunday.
It was not clear whether those workers, whose area encompasses Southeast Washingtion and adjacent Prince George's County, would return to work or continue their strike today. It was also not clear whether the Arlington, would continue operating or would again shut down.
A spokesman for the Northern division said at last night's meeting, "We decided unanimously that we haven't won. We have no alternative unless we want to crawl back on our knees, having won nothing and spent four days on strike."
Gary Young, one of three Metro workers threatened with a contempt citation, told the meeting, "This strike began because Metro violated the contract. They broke the law. They violated the contract."
Young said that the public should be considered because "they are our allies." He suggested that strikers ask friends and neighbors to call Metro to express support for the strikers. He said they should tell the public, "The same people that have been squeezing you dry with increased fares and cuts in service are squeenzing us workers, too."
Discussions among the drivers earlier Sunday indicated that Oberdorfer's actions Saturday made an impact on the striking workers - who expressed both appreciation for his attempt to understand their concerns and to deal with them apart from Metro and union leadership. At the same time, the striking workers were mindful that Oberforfer had the coercive power of fines or imprisionment to back up his effort to end the strike. Nevertheless, many workers appeared willing to defy the order and not return to work until the issues were resolved.
At the Southeast garage, at 77 M St. SE, about 30 drivers met behind closed doors for about an hour yesterday afternoon before voting to return to work at 12:01 a.m. today. A delegation of pro-strike transit workers from the Northern garage, at 4615 14th St. NW, met with the Southeast drivers in an effort to dissuade them from returning to work.