Metro riders have worried if what is playing out in San Francisco, where subway workers are teetering on a strike over a contract, could happen here in the D.C. area.
The short answer: no.
Local 689, Metro’s largest employee union, has a “no strike clause” in several legal documents, including its contract with Metro, the compact that created how the transit agency is governed and as part of a 1970s court ruling, according to Jackie Jeter, president of the union, which represents roughly 10,000 workers.
But, she cautioned, members could call for what’s known as a “wildcat” strike, where members go on strike even if it is illegal and against their contract.
Last month, the union and Metro’s management reached a deal on a four-year contract. Under the terms, Metro employees will see an 11.4 percent pay raise over the next few years and for the first time in decades will start paying into their pensions.
Jeter said union officials are working with Metro management to clarify some of the language in its most recent contract regarding strikes “so that people won’t misunderstand.” She said there has been some unclear language to Metro employees as to what happens if management does not abide by an arbitrator’s decision.
“We’re trying to make sure members understand what they have the right to do and not to do,” Jeter said. “I’m not going to say we wouldn’t go out on a wildcat but legally and by contract we have final and binding arbitration that is supposed to resolve any labor disputes that come about.”
She said Local 689 would likely strike if Metro “refuses to honor an arbitrator’s decision.”
The union is sensitive about arbitration deals after its last round of contract negotiations in 2009. That deal went to an arbitration board, which ruled on some issues for the union. But Metro appealed the decision. The case went before a federal judge and in July 2011 the judge ruled in favor of the union. Metro’s board of directors decided not to appeal the judge’s decision.
“The last time they failed to honor an agreement,” Jeter said. “We took the high road because we felt we were right. We will not stand for them not abiding by an agreement. They did it once. It turned out well for us. But it left the environment between labor and management very raw and very combative.”
Jeter and Metro officials have said they were satisfied to reach a deal in the latest contract negotiations without having to go to an arbitrator.
In San Francisco, commuter and transit workers have failed to reach a deal.
Gov. Jerry Brown has stepped into the labor contract disagreement. Labor unions had planned to walk off the job at midnight Sunday. Both sides presented their views at a public hearing Wednesday in Oakland. The two sides are at odds over wages, pensions, worker safety and health-care costs.
In July, BART workers went on a four-day strike that created major headaches for the roughly 200,000 people who ride BART round-trip each day. BART is the fifth-largest rail system in the country.
But D.C. officials said a similar situation of a strike is not likely here.
“BART could not happen here,” Jeter said. “Legally, we do not have the right to strike, but as a trade union we’re going to protect ourselves.”