Metro reaches agreement with 2nd-largest union; still no word on strike from ATU Local 689

Metro’s agreement with OPEIU Local 2 provides a modest wage increase for office workers, in exchange for higher employee contributions to health-care costs. (J. Lawler Duggan for The Washington Post)

As Metro continues negotiations with its largest union to stave off a strike, the transit agency said Monday it has reached a contract agreement with a smaller union that represents administrative and office workers.

Metro announced in a statement that it has reached a deal with AFL-CIO Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 2 on a five-year contract that would provide modest wage increases for workers in coming years, in exchange for concessions from the union members, who would have to make larger contributions to their health-care costs.

OPEIU Local 2, the second-largest union of Metro employees, represents more than 1,000 administrative and office workers at the transit agency.

In a statement, Local 2 called the agreement a “beneficial resolution.”

“The membership has reason to be pleased with the new agreement negotiated by its bargaining committee,” the union said. “After [Metro] began negotiations proposing a complete wage freeze and significant take backs, the committee was able to achieve meaningful wage increases both retroactively and going forward.”

The Metro Board is expected to approve the agreement at its next meeting, in September. Metro officials said they were satisfied with the outcome.

“The agreement is the result of two years of negotiation during which health-care and wage expenses were the largest points of negotiation,” the transit agency said in its statement. “Metro expects to reduce its health-care costs by approximately $2.3 million over the term of the contract by aligning Local 2 health benefits closer to regional benefit levels.”

Metro officials noted that the points of contention during negotiations did not include retirement benefits “because, like Metro’s management employees, Local 2 members hired since 2009 have been enrolled in a 401(k) retirement plan rather than the historic defined-benefit (pension) plan.”

“As with any constructive negotiation, we didn’t get everything we hoped for and neither did Local 2; however, this agreement fairly compensates employees while reducing Metro’s costs,” General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said in the statement. “We came together to make the hard choices that are necessary to keep Metro’s budget from growing beyond what the region can afford.”

That particular remark, and Metro’s announcement about the contract agreement, could be seen as a reproach of the leadership of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, which has fought efforts to transition future workers to a 401(k) retirement system. Local 689 represents about 8,000 of Metro’s 12,500 employees — many of them bus and train operators, dispatchers, repair workers, mechanics and infrastructure technicians.

Two weeks ago, members of ATU Local 689 voted to authorize a strike, highlighting their disagreements with Metro management and angst over stagnant contract negotiations that have gone to binding arbitration. According to representatives of Local 689, Metro officials have offered no increase in wages to match cost of living for their employees. The union also has bristled at Metro’s push to privatize some jobs at the transit agency.

Under federal law and the Metro compact, it is illegal for the workers to strike — though the union and workers have maintained that they are considering such action. After ATU Local 689 members voted to authorize a strike — in effect, giving union leadership permission to plan a strike — there has been a cooling-off period.

According to Metro union spokesman David Stephen, union representatives have had several meetings with Metro management that have been “productive,” and another sit-down between the parties was planned for Monday.