Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld will receive a $37,500 raise, effective immediately, despite vociferous objections from the agency’s front-line workers — and two board members.
The Metro board voted Thursday to extend Wiedefeld’s contract to 2021 and pay him $435,000 a year, making him one of the highest-paid public transit chiefs in the country.
The 7-to-1 vote approving the addendum to Wiedefeld’s contract was a sign of the board’s confidence in the general manager, who came to the agency in November 2015 at the height of its chronic safety problems.
It is the first raise Wiedefeld has received since joining the agency; he has eschewed raises and bonuses during his tenure, despite being eligible for annual performance bonuses.
“Having watched what he’s going through, and having watched the changes he’s made, I believe that we’re headed in the right direction. . . . Leadership matters,” board member Clarence Crawford said.
Said board member Jim Corcoran: “When Paul arrived here, there was zero confidence in this organization. That’s changed. The dedicated funding we got — that would not have happened if not for the elected leaders’ confidence in Paul.”
Board member Michael Goldman was the lone “no” vote, although an alternate board member with no voting power also objected to the raise.
Goldman said his opposition was not a reflection of his confidence in Wiedefeld’s leadership. “I think that Paul Wiedefeld has done a tremendous job for a very tough assignment,” Goldman said, adding it was simply a matter of optics.
Goldman said Wiedefeld insisted the path toward making Metro a more sustainable and better-functioning transit system involved “shared sacrifice.” For riders, that has meant service cuts and fare increases. For workers, that has meant stagnant wages and stricter workplace rules and regulations. For the region’s taxpayers, it means ponying up $500 million a year in dedicated funding for the transit agency.
Giving Wiedefeld a 9.4 percent raise at such a critical juncture, Goldman said, is not a good look.
That sentiment was shared by Malcolm Augustine, the alternate board member who attended the meeting but did not have voting power.
“I’m dismayed,” Augustine said. “This sends the wrong message at the wrong time.”
The board also finalized contracts with the agency’s two largest unions, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 and the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 2.
Those contracts provide comparatively smaller pay increases to transit operations and maintenance staff, along with administrative workers.
Additionally, in an email sent to staff Thursday, Wiedefeld announced managers also will receive raises averaging 2.4 percent annually over a four-year period.
The disparity between employees’ pay increases and Wiedefeld’s was not lost on workers, who showed up at the agency’s downtown headquarters to let board members know what they thought. Wiedefeld, they said, has driven down worker morale and has shortchanged the effort that rank-and-file employees put toward improving the state of the system.
“Paul Wiedefeld, who has not turned a wrench, operated a bus or train, serviced an escalator . . . or scrubbed a floor, is being praised as the reason for Metro’s improvement, while the workforce that has performed that work has been vilified,” mechanic Zuri Tesheira said.
Later, while board members praised Wiedefeld and lauded Metro’s improvements under his leadership, workers sitting in the audience muttered under their breath, laughed derisively, or coughed profane words in protest.
Augustine said ridership remains markedly lower from where it was when Wiedefeld arrived. That may be a product of larger forces, such as the popularity of ride-booking apps and the prevalence of working from home, but it’s still a problem that threatens Metro’s future.
“The mission is not done,” Augustine said. “Riders have not yet come back.”
During the public deliberations at the board meeting, Wiedefeld remained largely silent. Afterward, he acknowledged that it was difficult to listen to union members say their work satisfaction had dropped precipitously under his tenure, but he does not believe their views reflect Metro employees as a whole.
Wiedefeld said his priority in coming weeks will be to repair the relationship with union leaders, saying he wants to “break bread” with them soon.
Board Chairman Jack Evans said he understands why Metro workers feel undervalued.
“We do appreciate your work. If I could pay you more, I would,” Evans said.
He also defended Wiedefeld’s raise, pointing out that $37,500, in the context of Metro’s budget, is a modest sum. In comparison, he noted taxpayers must now pay an extra $32.9 million for the retroactive pay increases that an arbitration panel awarded to members of ATU Local 689.
“It’s apples and oranges,” Evans said.
Additionally, Evans pointed out that if Wiedefeld were to leave at the end of his current three-year contract, which expires in November, it would be extremely costly to conduct a search to replace him.
When asked by reporters, Wiedefeld said he has received several offers to go elsewhere since coming to Metro.
In other business Thursday, the recently formed Metrorail Safety Commission announced that it has formally submitted its application to the Federal Transit Administration to become the federally sanctioned agency in charge of overseeing safety and security at Metro.
From here, there will be a months-long process to turn over the responsibility from the FTA, which has had monitored safety at Metro since fall 2015.