A three-member arbitration board ruled Metro must pay $82 million in wage increases to union workers.
The decision announced last week by Metro came after the transit agency and its largest union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, couldn’t agree to renew a contract that expired in July 2016.
According to the 28-page ruling, both sides resolved “more than 50 outstanding issues” but remained apart on financial matters such as compensation and pension. Even some public board of directors meetings became contentious including one last year when union members dressed in black and the message “Baring in good faith” on the back of their T-shirts.
Union President Jackie Jeter said an interview Thursday, Aug. 17 its economist determined workers could’ve received additional earnings.
“We’re entitled to more, but the fact that we didn’t get it and we might be disappointed, we accept [the decision],” Jeter said outside Metro Center station in Northwest. “In our contract, it is binding arbitration and we abide by that. Since [Metro General Manager] Paul Wiedefeld has been here, he’s taking us to court five times. [Metro] refuses to go by the arbitrator’s rule.”
Metro must pay an average of 1.6 percent over a four-year fiscal period until July 2020. The panel ruled the award begins retroactively from July 1, 2016.
Metro expressed “disappointment” with the decision in a statement, but allows the agency to save $21 million for employees to contribute more in health care costs from 17 percent to 20 percent beginning in January. Workers with the agency will now be required to double its copay from $5 to $10 for retail generic drugs.
“This award puts employees represented by Local 689 a step closer to a more equal footing with employees represented by other unions, supervisors and staff with respect to health care cost-sharing,” Wiedefeld said in a statement. “The award also provides modest, well-earned wage increases for our workforce.”
The panel, which voted 2-1 on the wage increase award, didn’t address to place a cap on overtime toward pension calculations. Metro claims it remains the only large transit agency in the nation without the ability to do so.
The agency wants all future Local 689 employees to enroll in a 401(k) retirement plan, but the panel chose to make no changes.
The panel attempted to offer compromise while also highlighting the requests from both sides, according to the decision.
For instance, the union’s plead for wage increases “are unsupported” due to Metro’s financial hardship. Metro management “seeks to dig too deeply from both a financial and contractual standpoint.”
Jonathan C. Fritts, who dissented against the panel’s decision and a Metro arbitrator, wrote the panel failed to address the most pressing matter: retirement benefits.
In order to pay for these additional wages, Fritts suggested in a letter the money come from D.C., Maryland and Virginia because Metro “does not have the money to pay for it.”
Officials from those jurisdictions approved this year to provide Metro a total of $500 million in annual, dedicated funding for capital improvements. This marked the first time ever since the transit agency served the region more than 40 years ago.
Meanwhile, Local 689 will continue to push for support from officials, community leaders and residents in the region to have Wiedelfeld step down.
Union members rallied outside Metro Center station last week several days after a small group of white nationalists held its own gathering at Lafayette Square Park in Northwest. Pictures and video showed police escorting them on and off the train. Wiedefeld has said police ensured “to protect the safety of everyone.”
Jeter said the costs so far from that Aug. 12 event total more than $2.6 million.
“There’s been some really violent clashes between these fascists and anti-fascists … but [Metro] providing private transportation really sent the wrong message,” said Ann Wilcox, a Green Party candidate in the D.C. mayor’s race who stopped by the rally and supports the workers. “[White nationalists] could’ve paid for their own bus without using public transportation.”