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D.C. Circulator drivers vote for worker contract, ending strike

The move ends a three-day strike and sets the stage for the return of regular service on the system

D.C. Circulator headquarters on May 3. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)
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Members of a transit union approved a worker contract at D.C. Circulator on Thursday, ending a three-day strike and setting the stage for the return of regular service on the system.

Bus operators voted in favor of the collective bargaining agreement with RATP Dev USA, a multinational transit provider contracted by the District to operate the city bus system, according to the transit union. RATP Dev and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 said service on the six-route system will resume normal operations Friday.

“This strike showed the power of workers fighting for our rights. Local 689 D.C. Circulator members did what we do best and won,” Raymond Jackson, president of ATU Local 689, said in a statement after the vote Thursday evening. “After months of negotiations, this contract recognizes our members for the heroes they truly are.”

The bus system became paralyzed after drivers walked off the job Tuesday to demand better wages and working conditions in their labor contract. The strike continued until the contract was ratified late Thursday.

Brian Wivell, a spokesman for ATU Local 689, said bus operators voted “overwhelmingly” in support of the agreement.

Outside Circulator’s 17th Street NE garage, drivers shifted from protest to cheerful celebration after union representatives announced they had reached a tentative deal after 17 hours at the bargaining table.

D.C. Circulator drivers strike for second day amid negotiations

Circulator drivers asked for pay parity with other transit workers in the Washington region and wage increases that take rising inflation into account. They also sought a 401(k) employer contribution similar to what D.C. government workers receive, without the requirement that employees match it, as well as better working conditions.

ATU Local 689 represents the more than 150 drivers that work for RATP Dev, which has managed the bus system under a contract with the District Department of Transportation since 2018.

RATP Dev on Thursday night welcomed the ratification of the contract, saying it is looking forward to resuming bus operations Friday. The company said it recognized the service disruptions were inconvenient to riders.

“We are grateful for all the hard work and time that was put in on both sides to reach this agreement,” RATP Dev USA Chief People Officer Stacy Winsett said in the statement. “We are glad this was resolved quickly and are looking forward to getting back to the business of servicing our customers in the DC Metro Area.”

The office of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and DDOT officials did not respond to requests for comment.

The three-year contract raises the starting hourly wage of bus drivers from $18.54 to $24.50, bringing the rate closer to those at Metrobus, where drivers start at $25.51 per hour after graduating from training. The pay is also more competitive with suburban systems such as Fairfax Connector and Alexandria’s DASH.

The contract includes a 6.5 percent increase to the maximum wage rate in the first year, with an 18.5 percent increase over three years, the union said. By comparison, the company proposed increasing top pay by 6 percent over that period during earlier negotiations.

D.C. Circulator drivers strike over pay, disrupting commutes

“It is a lot better,” said driver Lamont Jackson, 43, a Washington native who has driven for D.C. Circulator for nearly a decade. “It finally looks like they have come to their senses. We will have better wages, benefits and more holidays.”

The contract adds a PPO health insurance option, makes Juneteenth a paid holiday and caps the number of “split runs” drivers must work during the early morning and late in the day. The company also agreed to change the 401(k) plan so the company will make a 4 percent contribution without the requirement that employees match it, the union said.

“We hope to improve this in future contracts,” Wivell said. He said the 401(k) changes in the agreement still don’t match the more robust retirement plan of D.C. government employees.

The union and company had been in contract talks since March and approved a 30-day contract extension that expired Saturday.

“It’s a shame that it took two months of bargaining and a three-day strike to win the contract that these workers always deserved,” Jackson said.

Less than 5 percent of the system’s buses were on the road, with dozens parked at its three garages.

Transit riders across the city this week have been left to wait for buses that never showed, with many unaware about the work stoppage. Several would-be riders complained about a lack of communication about the status of the bus operations from D.C. Circulator and the city.

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