Metro bus operators and maintenance employees at the Cinder Bed Bus Garage in Lorton are set to return to work after their union and the facility’s operator, contractor Transdev, announced a tentative labor agreement on Jan. 14.
The 13,000-plus members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 were expected to approve the agreement in a vote scheduled for Jan. 16, officially ending the Cinder Bed workers’ strike after 85 days.
“Our members at Cinder Bed Road sacrificed for months to ensure that public transit careers were steady paths to the middle class,” ATU Local 689 president and business agent Raymond Jackson said. “With this tentative agreement, it solidifies that transit companies can’t cut costs at the expense of workers’ ability to feed their families.”
While union representatives could not discuss details of the agreement until after the vote, ATU reported in a statement that the deal includes improved healthcare and retirement plans, along with “substantial” wage increases.
Transdev confirmed that a tentative agreement had been reached to the Fairfax County Times on Jan. 15, saying that it was hopeful the agreement would be voted in by ATU Local 689 members.
“Transdev is working closely with ATU 689 and our employees to restore service as quickly and as safely as possible,” Transdev North America vice president of marketing and communications Mitun Seguin said in a statement. “While there are retraining elements that drivers must receive before returning to service, Transdev will do everything we can to put out as much bus service as possible each day until full service is restored.”
120 workers at the Cinder Bed Bus Garage walked off their jobs on Oct. 24 to protest allegedly unfair labor practices by Transdev, which operates and maintains the facility as a contractor for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
Leading the first Metro strike since 1978, the Cinder Bed workers called for pay and benefits in line with what their colleagues employed directly by WMATA receive, along with better and safer working conditions.
More broadly, ATU took issue with WMATA’s decision to award Transdev a three-year contract for the Cinder Bed facility in August 2018, a move that the union feared would open the door to increased privatization of public transit services.
The protesting Cinder Bed workers were briefly joined by more than 600 Fairfax Connector bus drivers and mechanics that went on strike on Dec. 5 after ATU officials announced they had made little headway in negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement with Transdev, which was hired to operate the bus service by Fairfax County on July 1.
Disrupting all 91 routes used by an estimated 30,000 daily bus and rail commuters, the Fairfax Connector strike lasted three days before ATU and Transdev officials signed a back-to-work agreement permitting regular operations to resume while negotiations on a labor deal continued.
Facing increasing pressure from Fairfax County officials to get more involved in resolving the dispute between ATU and Transdev, WMATA announced jointly with the union on Jan. 10 that they had come to a four-year labor agreement that assuaged privatization concerns by bringing Cinder Bed operations in-house after its contract with Transdev expires in 2021.
Metro also promised to not privatize operations or maintenance work on its Silver Line extension and granted a 2.4 percent annual average wage increase for union employees, while establishing incentives for workers based on ridership growth.
Set to take effect after WMATA and ATU Local 689’s current contract ends on June 30, the new agreement was approved by union members on Dec. 19 and by the WMATA board of directors the following day.
According to ATU, the Cinder Bed workers’ strike is the longest-lasting transit labor action in the history of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region, affecting 18 Metrobus routes served by the garage and used by approximately 8,500 riders per day.
The strike also took a toll on the workers themselves, who went without pay for a nearly three-month span that included the winter holiday season.
“It is impossible to overstate how transformative this experience has been on their lives,” ATU Local 689 political organizer Brian Wivell said. “Workers risked eviction and foreclosure, had to delay essential medical care, spent what little savings they had, borrowed money from friends and family…This strike required so much from them, but they now have a path to retirement security, regular wage increases, better healthcare, worker protections and rights on the job.”
In the hours before ATU announced its possible agreement with Transdev, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted on Jan. 14 to direct county transportation staff to look into options for withholding or recovering money from WMATA to compensate for the bus service the agency did not provide during the Cinder Bed strike.
The board matter was introduced by Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay and Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw, whose district was most impacted by the transit strikes.
“As a long-time Braddock Rd commuter, I’m frustrated that our neighborhoods have been hit hardest by the recent disruptions,” Walkinshaw said in a tweet after ATU announced on Dec. 4 that Fairfax Connector workers would strike. “Braddock District commuters need and deserve reliable public transportation and we’ll only get that when workers are paid and treated fairly.”
Walkinshaw officially took office on Jan. 1, along with three other first-time supervisors and six returning supervisors, including McKay, who previously represented Lee District.
McKay praised the report of an agreement between Transdev and ATU.
“I’m pleased to hear about the better wages that have been negotiated, and that service will soon return for commuters,” McKay said. “…After weeks of outreach, I was glad to help resolve this strike and remain confident that WMATA’s recent labor deal on wages and benefits will protect the system’s drivers and mechanics moving forward.”