The union for Metro’s employees, ATU Local 689, said workers are protesting unfair labor practices, including low wages and poor benefits, and representatives could not say how long the strike could continue. The union said it was the first time workers for Metro had gone on strike in more than 40 years.
“We are willing to do whatever it takes to make sure these workers get the contracts they deserve,” said Brian Wivell, a political organizer for ATU Local 689. “Ultimately, it’s the choice of the company and the choice of the workers, too, to decide if they’re being respected at the bargaining table.”
Cinder Bed is a privately run Metrobus garage managed by Transdev, a French multinational company. The affected routes make up about six percent of Metro’s 325 total bus routes in the D.C. region.
Routes shut down on Thursday included 17B, 17G, 17H, 17K, 17L, 17M, 18G, 18H, 18J, 18P, 29C, 29G and 29W. Those same routes will not run on Friday, said Metro spokesman Dan Stessel.
Routes 29N, 29K and REX will also continue to operate on a less-frequent schedule. Metro urged riders to take Metrorail, other transportation or to go to its website to find other route options.
Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said that the labor dispute was between Metro’s contractor and the workers and that the transit authority had no plans to intervene. Transdev, he said, was contractually obligated to have a contingency plan to keep routes open. He said Thursday, about eight hours after the strike began, that it was too early to tell whether or when service on the routes could be restored.
Mitun Seguin, the vice president for marketing and communications at Transdev, said in an email that the company was “disappointed to learn that the ATU” chose to strike. Seguin said Transdev was “negotiating in good faith with the ATU for an initial collective bargaining agreement.”
Seguin called the union’s strike premature and said it “needlessly inconveniences the passengers.” Transdev apologized to customers “for the hardship caused by the union’s tactics.”
Union officials said they’ve been in negotiations with management since February. In August, the union said workers voted to authorize a strike if its bargaining team thought that was necessary.
“Cinder Bed workers are fed up with being mistreated,” Raymond Jackson, ATU Local 689 president and business agent, said in a statement. “These workers are going to stand strong and show Transdev and [Metro] that they deserve nothing less than what every other bus operator makes in this area.”
ATU Local 689 represents more than 13,000 members and retirees who work for Metro, Transdev, MetroAccess, DASH and the DC Streetcar.
Union officials said they want workers to “receive the same pay and benefits that other regional bus operators make.” They said operators work on the “same routes, on the same roads, with the same buses” as Metro but “earn $12 an hour less than other operators in the region just because they work for a private contractor.”
Operators at Cinder Bed typically make $20 an hour “across the board,” Wivell said. Metrobus operators at other sites “max out” at $33 an hour, and DASH operators make upward of $34 an hour, he said.
Transdev officials said its wages and benefits were “consistent with similar 80-100 bus operations across the region.”
A group of striking workers showed up at Thursday’s regularly scheduled Metro board meeting and called on board members to end privatization. Some alleged that their Transdev-paid supervisors ignore safety concerns.
Albert Ruffin, a Metrobus operator, told board members he is not being given enough time to do pre-trip inspections, while Latrice Smith, another operator, said buses are running with expired registration tags — indicating they aren’t being regularly inspected.
Rider advocates also complained about Metro’s response to the strike, saying commuters should have been given more warning about Thursday morning’s route delays and closures. Metro’s first service alerts on social media came out about 7 a.m.
“This is yet another issue with WMATA communications where you got something that was theoretically going to happen today but the warning, the alert on this, wasn’t sent out until early this morning after a lot of people who have already started their commute,” said Andrew Kierig, vice chair of Metro’s Riders’ Advisory Council.
Wiedefeld said Metro got word out as quickly as it could after Transdev assessed just how many workers it had available Thursday morning.