A Metro union strike continues to be a possibility, with the potential to disrupt the commutes of about one million bus and rail passengers.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 President Jackie Jeter would order a strike only if union leadership are not able to make progress with Metro in discussions, said her executive assistant Barry Hobson Tuesday.
“Our president has not given us a definite [date on] when we might strike, but if the negotiation with the authority have come to a halt, then our membership has already given us authorization through the strike vote,” Hobson said.
Lately, discussions between Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld and Local 689 elected leaders have gone smoothly, union spokesperson David Stephen said Monday.
“The leadership of ATU Local 689 had its third negotiation meeting with designees of WMATA [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority] General Manager Paul Wiedefeld today, and the meeting was productive,” Stephen said.
The reason for the potential strike is the union’s allegation that Wiedefeld violated the collective bargaining agreement in limiting the locations that custodians could choose shifts to work without seeking Jeter’s permission.
“According to our collective bargaining agreement, custodians should’ve been allowed to pick [shifts] based on their seniority in the location the contract said they had the ability to pick,” Hobson said. “The authority decided without consulting with the union that they were only going to allow the custodians to pick in certain areas, even though the contract states otherwise.”
Local 689 claims WMATA’s assigned shifts have caused health or safety concerns for some workers. Hobson said the union submitted to the court seven affidavits in which employees said they were not able to work the shifts WMATA management had assigned to them. One individual was assigned to work in an underground station, a place the employee could not work because of severe asthma, Hobson said.
The brake dust from the trains would have been dangerous to the employee, he said. “That was one of the locations that they [custodians] were… forced into."
The employees submitting two of the seven affidavits have “vision issues” and cannot drive at night, therefore requiring day shifts, Hobson added. However, WMATA assigned them to work at night.
Another issue was workers who would have an additional challenge of finding care for their children under their new picks assigned by WMATA, despite their seniority giving them first pick, said Hobson.
Stephen said WMATA and Local 689 have put the discussions on another pause until July 30 because of a Metro scheduling conflict.
Metro media relations personnel did not respond to requests for comment before press time.
Kanti Srikanth, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments director of transportation planning, said a strike of Metrobus and Metrorail operators would cause [serious] problems, because Metro transports roughly one million passengers per day during the week between rail and bus, and there are no public transit systems that could fill the void that would be created by a strike in Metrorail and Metrobus.
Thousands of Local 689 members congregated at Union Headquarters July 15 and voted to authorize a union strike.