Fairfax Connector returned to its regular weekday schedule this week after the labor union that represents its workers with Transdev struck an agreement with the private contractor to end a strike that significantly hampered Northern Virginia’s largest local bus system.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1764 and Transdev, the company that Fairfax County uses to operate its transit service, signed a back-to-work agreement allowing hundreds of bus drivers and mechanics to return to work so that all routes could resume full weekday service starting on Monday, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation announced on Dec. 8.
“Fairfax County officials are pleased that full Fairfax Connector service will be restored and would like to thank passengers for their patience,” the department said.
More than 500 Fairfax Connector workers employed by Transdev went on strike on Dec. 5 after the contractor and labor union were unable to agree on the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement.
Local 1764’s previous contract, which was made with a different company that operated Fairfax Connector before Fairfax County brought on Transdev on July 1, expired on Nov. 30.
Fairfax Connector drastically curtailed service during the four-day strike by following a Sunday schedule during weekdays and limited Sunday service on Dec. 8, affecting approximately 30,000 passengers who utilize the system’s 91 bus routes.
Though the strike is over, negotiations between Local 1764 and Transdev on a new contract are ongoing as the union pushes for improvements in wages, benefits, and work conditions.
“We still have items to negotiate, but our riders come first and foremost for us,” ATU International President John Costa said. “We are going back to work because their support and that of elected officials and allies have helped us make significant advances at the table.”
The Fairfax Connector strike reached a fairly swift resolution once the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors raised the possibility of fining Transdev if it did not come to an agreement with ATU.
A provision in Fairfax County’s contract with Transdev allows the county to assess $25,000 in damages from the company for each day service levels are reduced due to a work stoppage.
Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay, who was elected in November to serve as the board’s next chairman, met with representatives from the union and Transdev after the strike ended, according to WTOP.
“Glad we got the @ffxconnector buses going again this morning,” McKay said in a tweet on Dec. 9. “It’s good for our community and the bus operators. Still, work remains to be done and I’m committed to resolving the issues on the table as quickly as possible.”
In exchange for the union ending its strike, Transdev agreed not to discipline any workers who walked off their jobs, according to ATU Local 1764.
In a statement to the Fairfax County Times on Tuesday, Transdev disputed the union’s allegation that it had threatened to fire Fairfax Connector employees who participated in the strike, but the company says Local 1764 violated the National Labor Relations Act by not filing a notice with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service before going on strike.
The National Labor Relations Act requires parties in a collective bargaining dispute to notify the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service within 30 days of proposing negotiations of a new or modified contract.
“The strike became unprotected, and the employer only notified the union of that fact,” Transdev said. “No letters or notices were ever sent to the individual employees from the employer. No threats of any kind were ever made by the employer to the employees.”
ATU declared the Fairfax Connector strike “a victory,” but it has “the right to walk off the job again if the good faith bargaining by Transdev disappears” as they continue discussions for a new contract into next week, Costa says.
Under its back-to-work agreement with Transdev, the union has consented to provide notice of a second strike 72 hours in advance if one occurs, according to WTOP.
Just one day after Fairfax Connector workers resumed normal operations, unionized Transdev workers at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Cinder Bed Bus Garage in Lorton got encouraging news as their strike neared its 50th day.
WMATA announced late Tuesday night that it had reached a tentative agreement on wages and benefits with ATU Local 689, which represents 120 bus operators and maintenance workers who work at the Cinder Bed facility and initiated a strike on Oct. 24.
“After many months of negotiation, we reached a good deal for our employees that also provides our Board of Directors with an affordable option for bus and rail service for the next four years,” WMATA general manager and CEO Paul Wiedefeld said.
ATU Local 689 has been engaged in negotiations with Transdev to resolve concerns about pay, benefits, working conditions, and safety since February.
The Cinder Bed strike is the first at WMATA since 1978, disrupting 18 Metrobus routes serviced by the privately operated garage and affecting about 8,500 daily riders.
Along with demanding wages and benefits equivalent to what Metro employees receive, the Transdev workers objected to WMATA’s decision to privatize Cinder Bed in the first place, warning the agency against turning to contractors to fill jobs at other facilities.
When it awarded a contract to Transdev to maintain and operate Cinder Bed on Aug. 2, 2018, WMATA stated that the move was necessary to control costs without cutting service levels for customers or eliminating jobs for existing Metro employees.
In addition to creating incentives to improve customer service, the agreement that WMATA and Local 689 announced on Tuesday opens a way for work at the Cinder Bed garage and on the Metro Silver Line to be performed in-house, phasing out the use of private contractors at those locations.
Specific economic details of the agreement were initially withheld so that Wiedefeld could brief his board of directors and ATU Local 689 president and business agent Raymond Jackson could inform union members of the proposed deal.
The terms of the four-year agreement still need to be ratified by union members and approved by the WMATA board of directors. If accepted by both parties, it will take effect after their existing contract expires on June 30, 2020.
“I am pleased to have a deal that I can recommend to my members,” Jackson said. “This deal will help safeguard our jobs against privatization. This deal would benefit all of our members and solidify transit careers as a pathway to the middle class.”
The announcement of an agreement between WMATA and its largest union comes after local elected officials criticized the transit agency for not getting more involved in the labor dispute between the Cinder Bed workers and Transdev.
The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission unanimously passed a resolution at its Dec. 5 meeting urging Metro to take a more active role in resolving the dispute and questioning the agency’s decision to hire a private contractor to operate the Cinder Bed garage.
“NVTC urges WMATA to evaluate the effect of a two-tier wage and benefit structure between its own employees and a contractor’s employees in current and future contracting decisions,” the commission said. “…NVTC requests that WMATA seek other strategies to reduce costs to limit its annual operating subsidy increase to 3 percent.”
WMATA says its new agreement with Local 689 would “enable Metro to live within its legally-required three-percent subsidy growth cap.”
According to ATU, Transdev was not expected to return to the bargaining table until Dec. 18, though the Metro deal could help end the strike at Cinder Bed by addressing the union’s concern about privatization.
Transdev said prior to ATU and Metro’s announcement that it “remains committed to continue bargaining in good faith and reaching a fair and fiscally responsible agreement.”
As of Wednesday, the company had not had “a direct conversation” with WMATA on the transit agency’s proposed labor agreement with the union.
“It would be inappropriate for us to comment at this time,” Transdev spokesperson Mitun Seguin said.