Fairfax Connector workers could walk off the job for the second time in three months after talks between their union and contractor Transdev stalled on Feb. 19.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1764 and Transdev, which has operated Fairfax County’s bus system since July 1, 2019, spent three days this week negotiating for a new collective bargaining agreement, but the union announced before returning to the table on Feb. 17 that it had already started preparations for a possible labor strike that could start as early as Feb. 20.
Hundreds of bus drivers and mechanics employed by the largest local bus system in Northern Virginia have been working without a long-term contract since Nov. 30, the expiration date of their previous collective bargaining agreement with the company contracted to operate Fairfax Connector before Fairfax County switched to Transdev.
ATU Local 1764 said on Feb. 17 that contract negotiations with Transdev have been “fruitless” despite stretching on for three months, and the union also accused Fairfax County officials of failing to fulfill earlier promises to get involved in talks for a fair deal.
“While we remain committed to negotiating with Transdev to reach a fair and just contract, we are disappointed that Fairfax County hasn’t stepped in as promised to ensure Transdev gives our members – who serve their community – the fair contract they deserve,” ATU International President John Costa said. “We are once again left with no other option but to strongly consider walking off the job again.”
More than 500 Fairfax Connector workers previously went on strike on Dec. 5 after their union and Transdev were unable to agree on wages, health insurance, sick and vacation leave, and other contract terms.
The walkout forced Fairfax Connector to drastically limit its usual bus service to 15 routes that operated on a Sunday schedule. The system normally has 91 routes that transport roughly 30,000 passengers every day.
That strike ended on Dec. 8 with regular bus service resuming the following day after Transdev and ATU Local 1764 signed a back-to-work agreement that included a commitment from the contractor to not discipline any of the workers who had walked off their jobs.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors helped resolve the strike by threatening to exercise a provision in Transdev’s five-year contract that permits the county to fine the company $25,000 in damages for each day service levels are reduced due to a work stoppage.
According to the ATU, Fairfax County officials also promised to help the parties reach a fair and just contract or to hold a vote declaring Transdev in breach of its contract, but neither option has come to pass.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay expressed hope in a comment to the Fairfax County Times on Feb. 18 that this week’s negotiations would result in an agreement.
“Fairfax County is committed to continuing to foster conversations and look at all options moving forward,” McKay said. “Though we’re constrained in what and how we can get involved in this private process, we’ve been successful in helping to keep buses on the road, and I am hopeful that will continue.”
County and regional officials previously weighed in on a labor dispute between Transdev and contract workers at Metro’s Cinder Bed Bus Garage in Lorton.
Represented by ATU Local 689, 120 bus operators and maintenance workers at Cinder Bed went on strike on Oct. 24 to demand better wages, benefits, and working conditions and to protest the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s decision to contract out work at the facility.
The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, a regional transit organization that includes five Fairfax County representatives on its 21-member governing body, passed a resolution on Dec. 5 urging WMATA to play a more active role in resolving the impasse between Transdev and ATU Local 689 and challenging the agency’s decision to hire a private contractor to operate the Cinder Bed garage.
WMATA addressed the union’s privatization concerns with a four-year agreement that ensured Cinder Bed operations would be moved in-house when the contract with Transdev expires in 2021 and that committed the transit agency to contracting out operations or maintenance work on its Silver Line extension.
Announced by Metro and union leaders on Dec. 10, the labor contract also provided an annual average wage increase for ATU Local 689’s 8,000 Metro employees, created incentives for rider growth, and increased employee contributions to retiree health coverage while maintaining the existing defined benefit pension system.
Union members approved the deal on Dec. 19, and the WMATA board of directors followed suit on Dec. 20. The agreement will take effect on June 30 after the current contract between the two parties expires.
The Cinder Bed strike ended on Jan. 16 after 84 days when ATU Local 689 members voted to accept a new collective bargaining agreement with Transdev, concluding the first Metro strike since 1978.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted on Jan. 14 to review options for withholding or recovering money from WMATA to compensate for the bus service that was not provided during the Cinder Bed strike.
Transdev expressed disappointment upon learning from ATU that Fairfax Connector workers intended to exercise their right to strike.
“The notice was received immediately prior to our…February 17th, 18th and 19th negotiating sessions which had been scheduled by mutual agreement over a month ago,” Transdev vice president of marketing and communications Mitun Seguin said in a statement. “Transdev believes a fair and equitable agreement can be reached through good faith negotiations without the need to resort to a service disruption.”
In addition seeking improved wages, benefits, and work conditions for employees, ATU Local 1764 says that the National Labor Relations Board is currently investigating more than 40 separate allegations of federal labor law violations against Transdev, which the union says has failed to bargain in good faith.
“It’s long overdue for Fairfax County to hold Transdev’s feet to the fire or get rid of them, just like WMATA did at Cinder Bed Road,” Costa said. “…Transdev cares about one thing – pursuing profit at the expense of workers, riders, and the communities they exploit.”