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Metrobus contractor and union representing striking workers agree to return to bargaining table

Restarted talks are positive step in regional bus worker standoff

Winston Nichols, a bus operator and union organizer at the Cinder Bed Road bus garage, speaks at a rally Nov. 6 at Metro headquarters. He and other workers at the facility have been on strike since Oct. 24. (Justin George/The Washington Post)

A Metro contractor and the union representing nearly 120 striking Metrobus operators and garage workers agreed Wednesday to restart negotiations.

Workers at the Cinder Bed Road garage have been on strike since Oct. 24 in a labor dispute with Transdev, a multinational corporation Metro contracts with to run the facility.

“We hope that this time Transdev will stay at the table until a tentative agreement that is fair and just is reached,” said John Costa, president of Amalgamated Transit Union International. “Our members care about our riders. Thousands of Metrobus riders have been left stranded and their commutes have doubled in length and cost. It’s time for Transdev to bargain in good faith.”

The transit union said a federal mediator is joining the talks.

The three-week-old strike is about wages, annual raise standards and benefits. Bus operators, utility workers and mechanics at the bus garage want a pay and benefits package comparable to that of workers employed by Metro who perform the same jobs. ATU officials said starting pay for Metrobus and Transdev-employed Metrobus operators is about the same, but those employed by Metro can eventually earn up to $34 an hour. Transdev’s operators have not received a raise since the garage opened about two years ago and have no contractual raise standards, the union said. Health benefits include a $6,000 deductible.

Transdev and ATU Local 689, which represents the workers, had been in contract negotiations since early this year, but talks broke down Nov. 2, when union officials said Transdev refused to move beyond its offer.

A Transdev representative could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but a spokeswoman told The Post on Tuesday that the company had requested a federal mediator for negotiations.

“We are currently waiting for timing and availability for a mediator,” Transdev spokeswoman Mitun Seguin said. “Transdev wants to take advantage of every available tool that could bring negotiations to a resolution.”

ATU Local 689 President Ray Jackson said Transdev has walked away from negotiations multiple times, and he said Metro needs to keep its contractor at the bargaining table until resolution or else start fining the company or “if necessary, cancelling the contract with Transdev altogether.”

“If Transdev walks away again we demand that the [Metro] Board and [General Manager Paul J.] Wiedefeld compel the company to stay at the table until we reach an agreement,” Jackson said in a statement. “These are Metrobus vehicles, with Metro logos, in a facility built with Metro funds, operated by a foreign company with a multimillion-dollar Metro contract."

“This strike is the direct result of decisions made by Wiedefeld with the consent of the Metro Board. If Transdev abandons negotiations again, ATU Local 689 will be prepared to hold WMATA, the Board and Wiedefeld accountable,” he said.

Wiedefeld has said Metro won’t and can’t legally intervene, calling it a contract dispute between Transdev and its employees. In public comments he has urged both sides to bring in a mediator, and on Wednesday he made that recommendation again in a letter to Jackson and John King Jr., regional vice president for Transdev.

As strike against Metrobus contractor goes on, riders lose time, money and faith in transit

Transdev’s failure to reopen the routes, as well as Metro’s refusal to intervene in the negotiations or create transportation alternatives for riders of the strike-impacted routes, have frustrated many, including several members of the Virginia House of Delegates and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, who have urged Wiedefeld to step in.

“On behalf of thousands of Virginia residents whose commutes have been severely disrupted by the now 20-day strike, I renew my call for Transdev and Local 689 to return to the bargaining table and retain an independent third-party mediator to facilitate an immediate resolution,” Wiedefeld said in the letter Wednesday.

Strike against Metrobus contractor could spread to Fairfax Connector

Wednesday’s announcement comes days after another local ATU chapter overwhelmingly passed a strike-authorization vote while in negotiations with Transdev over a new contract for Fairfax Connector employees. The Connector is the state’s largest bus service, carrying about 30,000 riders on an average weekday on 91 routes in Northern Virginia. The workers’ contract expires Nov. 30, and union officials said they are hopeful an agreement can be forged before then.