The president of Metro’s largest union isn’t mincing words when it comes to the agency’s latest budget proposal: She says it’s a sign the system is in a “death spiral.”
And to underscore that point, she appeared alongside two Grim Reapers — and dozens of Metro workers, holding tombstones marked with bus routes at risk of being cut — in a Halloween protest of the proposed layoffs, fare hikes and service reductions the transit agency wants to implement to balance its books.
Amalgamated Transit Union 689, which represents 13,000 Metro employees, is in contract talks with Metro leadership. And Jeter, who has been reluctant to speak publicly on the status of those negotiations, hinted Monday that they are proceeding much like Metro’s budget discussions.
“All they wanna do is cut, cut, cut,” she said.
— Faiz Siddiqui (@faizsays) October 31, 2016
The union was responding to Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld’s proposed fiscal year 2018 budget, an ominous assessment of the state of the system and its need to fill a $290 million budget shortfall. The cost to ride a train during peak hours would rise by a dime, bus fares would jump 25 cents, and trains would arrive less frequently on nearly every line throughout the day.
Further, the proposal includes plans to reduce Metro’s workforce by 1,000 — including layoffs of 300 operational employees — train and bus operators, mechanics and supervisors.
The transit agency’s budget proposal assumes no general increase in wages — even though the unions are seeking an across-the-board pay increase.
Metro contends its workforce is too bloated for the ridership it currently serves, which is down about 90,000 trips from 2009 peak levels. In budget documents to be presented to the board of directors Thursday, the transit agency admits that fare hikes are likely to lead to further ridership declines.
“While any increase will be unpopular with riders and is likely to result in a decline in total ridership, the necessity of generating adequate revenue must be balanced against the ridership impact,” the agency says in the budget documents.
Pressed on whether she saw room for any layoffs, Jeter said the onus is on Metro’s managers to ensure the organization can support its workforce.
“If they hire the employees, then I expect them to have the jobs for the employees to do,” Jeter said. “Right now, in the way that they’re cutting, if they’re not managing correctly, then that’s why people are losing their jobs — because you’re never supposed to have more people than you actually need.”
Later, she added: “Instead of cutting the full-time people that you have, why not cut the contractors that you’re bringing in?” echoing a point made at a union demonstration before the agency’s governing board last week.
Jeter said Metro’s “cut, cut, cut” mentality has extended to contract negotiations, leaving health insurance, pensions and retirement benefits in jeopardy, though she did not say to what extent. In response to her comments, Metro said closing the budget shortfall required “shared sacrifice,” but it did not delve into the specifics of what it was proposing.
“We and the union have mutually agreed to negotiate in good faith at the bargaining table, and we are going to abide by that agreement,” Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said. “However, as a general matter, the GM has said that closing a nearly $300 million budget gap will require shared sacrifice from all stakeholders.”