As Metro and its largest union enter a “cooling off period,” temporarily abating fears of a transit strike following union members’ vote to overwhelmingly authorize a work stoppage Sunday, the union is seeking the support of local elected leaders in its bid to secure worker-friendly concessions from management.
Wednesday afternoon, union leadership issued letters to elected officials in the District, Maryland and Virginia asking them to rally behind the union’s causes: rolling back a policy reassigning hundreds of custodians to Metro stations and outsourcing some of the work, reversing rules requiring a 72-hour notice for sick leave and curbing Metro’s shift toward private contracting of certain services. The union is also calling for management to pull back on its threat to issue three-day suspensions to workers who participated in a July 12 “late-out” that delayed bus service in parts of the region.
When Metro moved last month to shift hundreds of custodians who worked in bus garages and rail yards into stations, without regard for seniority, the union alleged in U.S. District Court that the move violated the parties’ collective bargaining agreement.
Further, the union alleged, proposed changes to the worker selection process had already been brought before an arbitration panel after Metro and union leaders could not agree, but Metro moved to impose its own process before the panel could rule, the union said. It was the “last straw” in management decisions perceived as anti-worker slights, the union said, and thousands of union members voted Sunday by a 94-percentage-point margin to authorize a strike.
“Our demand is simple: get [General Manager Paul] Wiedefeld to follow the law, abide by the collective bargaining agreement, and bargain in good faith on all matters under his obligation,” the union wrote in its letter. “We are well aware of the legality of a strike, and the consequences of such an action. Our willingness to strike should demonstrate to you how terrible the morale is for workers at Metro and the lengths we are willing to go to restore the integrity of this system and our work.”
It was not known if any regional officials immediately signed on.
After Sunday’s strike authorization vote, Metro and union officials met Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss workers’ grievances. The first meeting generated little momentum on either side, though it appeared to avert a service disruption during Tuesday’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Nationals Park. On Wednesday, however, the parties met again, and the union issued a statement suggesting a detente.
“Good progress [was] made in the meeting, although there are no formal agreements, yet,” the union wrote. “Parties will enter into a cooling off period for a few days and plan to meet again on Monday.”
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 represents about 8,000 of Metro’s 12,500 employees, a majority of the agency’s workforce. Since General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld took over in November 2015, he and the union have sparred over numerous issues — from Wiedefeld’s elimination of 500 jobs and open positions, to his decision to fire a third of the agency’s track inspection department over alleged falsification, to Metro’s decision to take the union to court over a policy requiring Metro to allow workers to earn double for working a seventh consecutive day. Metro argued the policy posed concerns about worker fatigue. It was one of three instances, the union said, where Metro failed to follow the orders of an arbitrator and instead took the union to court.
“Every time Wiedefeld fails to implement an arbitration decision he is breaking the Congressional Compact which is illegal,” the union wrote. Striking is illegal under the federal and regional Metro compact, which subjects disputes to a grievance process and binding arbitration. A work stoppage could prompt a federal judge to order employees back on the job and lead to hefty fines for the union.
The full list of the union’s grievances was outlined in its letter to elected leaders.
- Eliminate the threatened three-day suspension of all ATU Local 689 members who had a single miss on July 12, 2018.
- Rescind the illegal custodian work pick until the rendering of the arbitration decision.
- Stop the willful violations of the ATU Local 689/WMATA collective bargaining agreement.
- Cease the strangulation of the grievance process and the jamming of the arbitration schedule.
- Discuss with ATU Local 689 the contracting out of Silver Line service to Kawasaki.
- Cease the attempts to privatize the work at the new Cinder Bed Road bus garage.
- Eliminate the random background screenings policy that began on July 1, 2018.
- Cease eliminating jobs through the vacancy process.
- Stop unnecessary terminations.
- Meet and confer with the union about the WMATA absenteeism policy.
- Immediately address the flawed Kronos time clock and pay system.
- Meet and confer with the union on the newly enacted Disciplinary Administrative Program (DAP) policy.
- Address all problems resulting from the replacement of WMATA Office of Medical Services with Concentra.
- Allow Transit Workers Health and Welfare or The Hartford to make determinations on who is eligible for long-term disability and not solely the medical department.
Metro declined to comment Wednesday on the specifics of the union’s request.
“Discussions are ongoing with another meeting scheduled for Monday,” Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said. “We will let that process play out.”