DC Circulator bus drivers plan strike on Tuesday

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Getting a DC Circulator ride took longer for most passengers on Tuesday when bus drivers began a strike to protest what they say are unfair wages and poor working conditions.

Union officials said the bus drivers walked off the job on Tuesday morning due to “a lack of progress in contract negotiations” with RATP Dev USA, the company that operates the six-route system for the Department of Transportation in DC.

“RATP Dev left us no choice but to get off the job,” said Raymond Jackson, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, which represents more than 150 Circulator drivers. “We encourage commuters to seek out alternate forms of public transportation throughout the city.”

The workers intend to strike until an agreement is reached, the union said.

RATP Dev and the union have been negotiating a new contract since March and approved a 30-day contract extension which expired on Saturday. Union leaders said the company failed to meet workers’ demands for better working conditions and pay.

On Friday, RATP Dev said in a statement that a strike or work stoppage “could lead to a loss of public transport services”. After receiving notice from the union on Monday of the strike plan, the company called the action ‘disappointing’ and said it intended to ‘continue to bargain in good faith’ when negotiations resume on Wednesday .

Drivers gathered early Tuesday at the NE 17th Street Bus Garage with signs reading “Together We Fight! Together, we win!” and “We move the whole region!” while singing in favor of fair wages. Only two buses had left for their routes early Tuesday while others remained parked on site.

From Friday: DC Circulator strike possible next week amid contract talks

At bus stops across the city, passengers were left waiting as some tweeted at DC Circulator that its website did not list the arrival time of the next bus.

“Where are the buses?” a runner tweeted just before 8 a.m.

“Sorry for the inconvenience,” The DC circulator has responded. “Our DC Circulator service is temporarily interrupted as of May 3, 2022 due to the Bus Operators Strike.”

The DDOT, which funds the Circulator, offered passengers alternative routes and urged them to “plan ahead.” Several Metrobus and Metrorail lines provide service along Circulator routes. The city has also partnered with Lyft to provide Capital Bikeshare free rides. Lyft, which operates the bike-sharing system for the area, said riders can get 20 free, 30-minute rides on regular bikes with the code 20DCRIDES.

RATP Dev said it offered a contract that includes raises to 401(k) matches, adds an additional medical plan, makes Juneteenth a paid holiday and includes “better wages.” But ATU Local 689 said in a statement that the company’s offer ‘has not adequately addressed years of underpayment and inflation’ and ‘threatens to replace our members. by contractors, removed federal workers’ rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act, and proposed to undermine the concept of progressive discipline.

Circulator drivers and the union have for years lobbied the city to bring the Circulator system on board and eliminate the contracting system, which they say has resulted in diminished benefits and lower wages. wages. Circulator drivers have historically been among the lowest-paid transit operators in the Washington area, a pay gap that creates turnover and disparity that troubles union and church leaders pushing for parity.

Last week, ATU Local 689 said the company had “repeatedly insulted our members with unserious offers”, including raising the maximum salary by 6% over three years. The most experienced Circulator drivers are paid less than Metrobus drivers, the union said, adding that its workers’ salaries are also out of step with those of other local transit agencies.

“This company will only realize the true value of its workforce when it doesn’t show up for work,” Jackson said. “RATP Dev cannot drive these buses.”

The DDOT warned Friday that a potential strike would “severely limit and/or disrupt” bus operations. The traffic routes – which carried 5 million passengers a year before the pandemic – connect communities across the city to downtown and other destinations, such as Georgetown, Dupont Circle, Eastern Market and the Wharf.

Brian Wivell, a spokesman for ATU Local 689, said the union expects “a significant impact on operations” on Tuesday, adding that the company was already understaffed.

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