The Connector, which carries an average of 30,000 riders on weekdays, is Virginia’s largest bus system and the Washington region’s third-largest. Fairfax County funds the 91-route system, which has about 600 employees and connects Fairfax neighborhoods to Metro lines.
“We held off as long as we could, but Transdev made clear at negotiations today that they would rather see service disrupted than their unfair labor practices ended,” ATU International President John Costa said in a statement Wednesday night. “While we remain committed to negotiating with Transdev to reach a fair and just contract, workers cannot be asked to tolerate an escalating campaign of union-busting in the meantime.”
A collective bargaining agreement between Transdev and ATU Local 1764, the union chapter representing Connector workers, expired Nov. 30.
On Thursday, union officials said a “few hundred” people were on the picket lines.
Some riders took to social media to express their reactions to the Fairfax Connector bus strike.
On Twitter, @Ginzan77 wrote, “Good grief @ffxconnector. Haven’t commuters suffered enough this year? Resolve this. Fast.”
Another response on Twitter from @uk8rings said: “The Fairfax Connector drivers are now on strike. 40K effected ABC7 just said. So a total of 50k taxpayers are now without their bus route. Maybe our officials will do something now?”
Fairfax County transportation officials said in a statement that Transdev does not expect all Connector bus drivers to report for work Thursday, and bus service will be operated by a limited number of available personnel. The decision was made to operate a Sunday schedule instead of a weekday schedule because that is believed to be the maximum level of reliable bus service that can be provided under the current circumstances, officials said.
Transdev said it was “extremely disappointed” by the planned strike. In a statement, the company said negotiators met for 10 hours Wednesday before the union walked away from talks.
“Transdev was committed to bargaining in good faith and was hopeful that the parties could continue making progress on the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement,” Transdev spokeswoman Mitun Seguin said in a statement late Wednesday.
The Connector workers join nearly 130 employees at a Metrobus garage who went on strike Oct. 24, shuttering 15 routes and limiting three others. Both groups of striking workers are employed by Transdev, a multinational transit company that Fairfax County and Metro contracted. The Metrobus strike affects an average of about 8,500 weekday riders, according to Metro.
Both groups are represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union, the nation’s largest transportation workers guild, which is seeking better raises and benefits. Transdev and ATU officials have been unsuccessfully negotiating for months, and they have been aided by a federal mediator in recent weeks after talks stalled multiple times.
“We apologize for the short-term inconvenience to our riders, but if we don’t stand up to Transdev now, the long-term effects will be worse for everyone in the DMV,” Costa said. “These strikes at Fairfax Connector and Cinder Bed Road are about the future of public transportation in our region. Do we want private multinational companies who break the law and put profit first while exploiting riders and workers and cutting corners on safety and service? We believe the resounding answer from workers and riders alike will be ‘hell no!’”
Fairfax Connector workers have sought better work protections and equity in salaries for years.
The previous private operator of the Fairfax Connector and workers were also engaged in a labor dispute. Workers authorized a strike two years ago after labor negotiations over wages, bathroom breaks and a pension plan stalled with the contractor at the time, MV Transportation.
Fairfax’s $443 million, five-year contract with Transdev went into effect in July. Under the contract, Transdev provides operations and maintenance of the bus system, which in fiscal year 2019 carried 8.3 million trips, a 0.26 percent increase from the previous year and an indication of ridership leveling after year of declines.
The striking Metrobus workers are employed at the new Cinder Bed Road Metrobus garage, which opened in 2018. Metro awarded Transdev an $89 million, three-year contract to operate the facility, plus two one-year options, with the goal of saving $15 million over five years by not paying garage workers Metro pensions and retirement benefits.
The garage and the 18 bus routes that are run from it are the only portions of Metro’s main transit services that are outsourced. Metro has cited rising operating costs and declining Metrobus fare revenue as reasons to cut costs, and they said the agreement avoided any layoffs of current Metro employees. The striking Cinder Bed Road workers were all hired after the garage was built.
Metro has been criticized by riders, union members and some local elected officials for failing to intervene on its end in the dispute between ATU Local 689 and Transdev. Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld has repeatedly said the contractor and union need to work things out themselves though he has urged both sides to come to a resolution and use a mediator.
Metro’s contract calls for Transdev to have a strike contingency plan to keep its routes operating, but the company has failed to do so. The transit authority said it is considering seeking damages for that failure but it is not known whether it has sought any.
Metro spokesman Dan Stessel deferred comment to Fairfax County officials on whether Metro has been working on any emergency operations plans now that a Fairfax Connector strike is adding to Northern Virginia’s bus problems.
“With the exception of the Cinder Bed Road routes, we expect Metrorail and Metrobus service to operate normally tomorrow,” he said late Wednesday.
For details, on which bus routes are affected, go to Fairfax Connector.
Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this report.