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A day after Metro officials denied hundreds of workers’ request to take sick leave, dozens of members of the agency’s union filled a meeting room Thursday to demand Metro work with the union to improve the beleaguered transit system.
Dressed in black, the workers had a message on the back of their T-shirts: “Bargain in good faith.” The union and Metro continue to negotiate a new contract after the previous on expired in June.
Jampsea Campbell, a bus operator with Metro for 14 years, stood at the podium, looked at Metro’s board of directors, raised her fist and in unison with the other union members, turned their back to show the T-shirts’ “Bargain” message. Then Campbell yelled, “Who moves this city? We move this city.”
The members continued the chant for nearly a minute before leaving the room.
During the week, nearly 500 workers requested sick leave based on Metro’s revised absenteeism policy, implemented March 1 with one of the requirements that workers must give a 72-hour notice.
The workers did just that, but the agency still denied the nearly 500 requests.
On Thursday at the agency’s headquarters, members of the Amalgamated Transit Union protested outside with signs that read, “WMATA: Fund it. Fix it. Make it fair,” and “We are proud members of ATU Local 689. We make it work!”
Back inside, union President Jackie Jeter had a few words for Metro officials.
“We sacrifice our safety while you proclaim to cut middle class workers and their jobs in your budget, but have hired three times the number of contractors to replace our jobs,” she said. “Now is that shared sacrifice, or a well-planned smokescreen?”
Anthony Garland, international representative for Local 689, dressed in black like all the other union members, turned to his right and looked at Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld sitting nearby.
“Take a look around you,” he said. “These are your workers. They are tired of the disrespect and want to be inclusive in the discussion about effective and reliable transit in this region. When you’re not working and you’re managing, they’re here making the system work.”
After the union and workers left the room, the board continued through the rest of the meeting agenda, though Wiedefeld addressed the issue with reporters about an hour later.
“Anytime you are in a contract negotiation, it can be tough,” he said. “Unfortunately, we have had some issues here … that I feel need to be addressed. I intend to be very civil in our reaction and professional in everything that we do.”
Regarding the absenteeism policy, he said the agency had a right to change it.
“It was a management decision,” he said. “It is straightforward. The goal here is to make sure that we are providing a service. If someone calls in and if we don’t have someone to back fill, then we don’t provide the service.”
While Wiedefeld spoke to reporters, ATU Local 689 posted a tweet about the alleged “sick-out” by workers, calling it “irresponsible” of Metro “to leak to the public that there would be a sick out when one was never planned by the union.”
When asked if hundreds of sick leave requests was part of a negotiation ploy by the union, Wiedefeld declined to comment because negotiations are confidential.
As the board of directors held a Safety Committee session Thursday morning, workers had to repair fasteners along parts of the Red Line that caused smoke to fill a tunnel near Metro Center in downtown D.C.
Train service was suspended for a few hours between Dupont Circle and Gallery Place in the city. A Metro alert posted at 1:12 p.m. showed normal service had resumed at Metro Center.
“It all goes back to an aging system that hasn’t been maintained,” Wiedefeld said.