On May 5, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 689 announced the end of a three-day strike by 150 DC Circulator bus operators after agreeing to a new three-year contract with private operator RATP Dev.
Circulator drivers, who serve similar routes as their public sector counterparts, want wage and benefit parity with other transit workers in the Washington DC metro area. Their strike emerged as tens of thousands of other workers launched strikes across the country, protesting low wages amid rising inflation and rising costs of living.
“After a unified and strong three-day strike, bus operators from ATU Local 689 for the DC Circulator have voted overwhelmingly to approve a collective bargaining agreement,” the ATU boasted on Facebook. . Local 689 cited “improvements in health care, better pension benefits and substantial wage increases,” including a starting salary level “increased by more than 25% immediately to address the labor shortage. bus operators”.
Besides, “[o]The highest paid operators will receive increases of 18.5% over the term of the contract. Retirement has moved from an employer matched system to a direct employer contribution to a member’s 401(k).
Despite the bragging, the contract contains reductions in real wages when inflation is taken into account. The three-year contract provides salary increases of around 6% for top drivers, compared to current inflation levels of 8.3%. Prior to the strike, the ATU itself acknowledged that “[w]ith years of underpayment and inflation above 8%, we knew this contract would require significant wage and benefit improvements to correct the mistakes of the past.
The increase in the new starting salary for drivers, from $18.54 to $24.50, means that bus operators will still not be able to afford to live in the area. According to List of apartments, “The average annual salary in the DC metro area is $90,842 or $45.82 per hour.” Rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $2,508, “meaning a DC resident should be earning at least $8,146 a month or $100,320 a year before taxes.”
In contrast, even with an hourly wage of $24.50, drivers will earn $50,960, or approximately half of the vital amount required for the city in which they work.
RATP Dev Executive Stacy Winsett welcomed the deal in the Washington Post, saying the company was ‘grateful for all the hard work and time put into’ the contract and that ‘[w]We are glad this was resolved quickly. This statement highlights the huge profits the company expects during the three-year contract.
The agreement makes a mockery of the Local 689 president’s assertion that transit agencies “nationwide are now on notice.” In fact, the ATU isolated the strike and refused to call other transit workers from the same local to support it.
The ATU is terrified of disrupting transit service across the city under conditions where the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is facing a significant budget crisis.
The strike itself was limited to 150 bus operators, affecting only some of the routes served by the Circulator. Amid the May 3 strike, Circulator tweeted alternate bus routes for passengers until the strike ended without a word of protest from the union.
This mimics the role other unions have played throughout the pandemic. Rather than mobilizing members for a decisive confrontation with employers who are forcing workers to risk their lives for profits amid a deadly pandemic, they have sided with management against their own members.
The strike resulted in moderate gains because the pitifully low wages the company was paying before the strike threatened its ability to retain drivers. Indeed, this was acknowledged by the ATU itself when it stated that the aim of the immediate 25% pay rise was to “address the shortage of bus operators”.
Washington DC’s entire transit system is facing a crisis caused by a loss of ridership during the pandemic. According to DCist“[b]U.S. ridership is back to around 60% of pre-pandemic levels, with around 290,000 rides per day in recent weekdays. Rail ridership is about 37% of pre-pandemic numbers, with 230,000 trips on the last weekdays. »
WMATA ‘faces a $300 million budget shortfall starting next year when federal coronavirus relief funds run out’ even as more commuters turn to the system public transit to save money on gas. In an article last week, the To post noted that “tough choices lie ahead without ridership returning to pre-pandemic levels or another financial infusion.”
This crisis was compounded by the forced withdrawal of more than 60% of the rail system’s fleet due to a defect in the wheelbases of the widely used 7000 series train carriages. The loss of hundreds of trains has led to overcrowded cars in conditions where coronavirus variants are rapidly circulating in the region. This resulted in a further loss of goodwill.
Compounding the crisis, it was announced on Sunday that the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission (WMSC) had “identified gaps in recertification” for more than half of the rail operators in the system, resulting in the immediate removal of 72 of them. The resulting loss of skilled operators left rail services “delayed from Monday”, WTOP wrote.
WMATA Chief Executive Officer Paul J. Wiedefeld and Chief Operating Officer Joseph Leader announced their immediate resignations following the rail system accident. Wiedefeld, who was due to retire at the end of June, brought forward his retirement date following the latest scandal.
Weidefeld will be replaced by interim chief executive Andy Off until his replacement, Randy Clarke, formerly of the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, based in Austin, Texas, assumes the role in July.
Undoubtedly, the goal of WMATA and regional officials will be to place the burden of this crisis on the backs of workers and the public. The ATU will not lift a finger to fight against this process. As it has done throughout the pandemic, the ATU will throw itself at the mercy of Congress begging for emergency cash injections. When appeals to the Democratic Party fail to resolve the issue, it will backfire on its members and help the leadership enforce budget cuts.