Fill Up Your Gas Tanks, Boys, You Might Be Driving to Work

Ninety-four percent of the Washington Metro’s largest labor union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 voted to authorize labor leaders to call a transit strike. Metro workers are forbidden from striking under the mass transit system’s governing authority, and a judge could order strikers back to work. But even a one-day walkout could cause massive disruption to Northern Virginia’s overloaded transportation system.

“We understand the ramifications of what we’re asking our members, we understand what a strike would mean,” said Jackie L. Jeter, president of the union, which includes about 8,000 of Metro’s 12,500 active workers.

“We will decide the when and where and how,” Jeter said at a news conference, as reported by the Washington Post. “We have to call a meeting of the executive board after this vote, and then we’ll decide on what we’re going to do.”

The vote follows “late-out” demonstrations on July 4 and Thursday, in which some employees arrived after the start of their scheduled shifts, delaying some bus service. The actions were meant to send a message to Metro management about stalled contract negotiations, job cuts, privatization, duty reassignments and other issues. Local 689 has been without a contract since July 2016.

Metro management under General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld made serious efforts to boost efficiency and productivity at the money-losing organization that has fallen billions of dollars behind in maintenance expenditures, has experienced chronic safety and reliability issues, and has suffered ridership declines.

The union has not gone out on strike since a wildcat walkout 1978. But after all the safety incidents and with all the trouble keeping trains on schedule, Metro riders don’t want to hear about potential labor disruptions. The union action is only a threat at this point, but riders who are skeptical that Metro offers a viable transportation option will not be reassured.

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9 responses to “Fill Up Your Gas Tanks, Boys, You Might Be Driving to Work

  1. The prospect of a strike is getting political.

    Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox, Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, Caucus Chairman Tim Hugo, and Majority Whip Nick Rush released the following statement Monday on the Metro strike authorized by ATU 689:

    “Over the weekend Metro employees from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 voted to authorize a strike in direct violation of the binding, three-state Metro compact. This action is illegal on its face, would be devastating to Northern Virginia, and must be challenged immediately.

    “This year, Republicans in the House of Delegates recognized the value of Metro and committed $154 million in dedicated funding in exchange for key reforms that will ensure Metro’s long-term viability. The ATU’s action threatens not only to cripple the region, but also to do significant damage to the political progress we’ve made over the last year. We will not write a blank check to a dysfunctional organization.

    “Governor Northam and Attorney General Herring should immediately move to challenge this in federal court to uphold the compact, protect the thousands of Virginians who rely on Metro every day, and ensure the Northern Virginia economy does not come to a standstill because of this irresponsible move.”

  2. The same tactic just produced a new contract for the Richmond GRTC employees, where a similar contract negotiation had been stalled a long time. I wouldn’t assume a strike is actually going to happen this time either. It does create a potent wedge issue for Republicans to exploit, but the result will likely be plenty of phone calls from high level D’s to management saying – make the deal, dammit. So again, probably a smart move on the part of the labor side. The whole idea of public employee unions is fraught with peril, but once you make that bed you get to sleep in it. Just think of it as more pressure for the move toward autonomous vehicles.

  3. I’d probably be inclined to pull a “Ronald Reagan” if they go on strike, per air traffic controllers

    • If the strike by public workers is illegal, why would one not fire these workers who engaged in illegal activities. Like in Ronald Reagan’s air-controller case, the rationale for firing is compelling. This organization is wholly dysfunctional. The last thing it needs is to reward its lawbreaking employers for breaking the law in mass so as to wreak great harm on public for refusing to work.

  4. If you go the Reagan-air-traffic-controller route, you’d better have sufficient Metro management staff to run the trains. Most air traffic management had previously been controllers and could fill in.

    • You’d be surprised what people can do with a little training. Back in 1983, there was a nationwide CWA strike against the Bell System. I showed up on Sunday. They gave me about 45 minutes training and made me a directory assistance operator. Pretty good for a then young lawyer.

      But that’s a big jump from running buses or trains. I suppose WMATA could shut down most of the bus lines and concentrate on rail with management that could operate a train. WMATA would probably need to cut operating hours and reduce the number of trains. If it wasn’t a short strike, they could advertise for replacements and not bring everyone back to their job.

  5. Dear Jim,

    I agree with Reed & CrazyJD. Fire ’em if they walk. Guess I’ll be carpooling I-66 or something.

    Sincerely,

    Andrew

  6. Weidenfeld has shown he’s not afraid to take bold action when there’s a clear goal — eg, safety, catch-up on deferred maintenance. Is the goal clear enough here to win public support? Simply driving a hard bargain won’t justify a shutdown to most long-suffering riders. Eliminating an entire generation of employees who fabricate equipment and rail safety inspection reports with impunity, now that would bring cheers heard all the way to Richmond. Steve’s partisan analysis may be right, but the NoVa public already understands that Metro cannot buy its way out of this reckoning with the unions forever.

  7. I would think the difficult negotiation is, Virginia being a right-to-work (non-union) state, and then DC and MD want VA to go along with union-style lack of peformance. I am not saying all unions lack good performance, but that is one behavior characteristic that sometimes happens. So my tendency is to say, let Virginia run the darn system.

    Aside from Virginia, they could have whoever runs Nats Ballpark run it. Those employees always seem to me so helpful and friendly and competent.

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