Metro’s largest union may soon authorize a strike due to what its officials describe as constant disrespect toward workers by the agency CEO and General Manager Paul Wiedefeld.
Although union leaders agreed to meet with Wiedefeld’s designees Tuesday, July 17, a statement released Monday, July 16 laid out their feelings toward Wiedefeld and his failure to adhere to a collective bargaining agreement particularly in light of the fact that their contract expired in 2016, followed by binding arbitration ordered last year.
“For the past two years, ATU Local 689 has come to the WMATA board demonstrating to them the many ways Metro’s General Manager Paul Wiedefeld — the man that they hired — has been pissing on the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between ATU Local 689 and WMATA and they still don’t get it,” according to the statement. “It is time for him to take responsibility for his failure to hold up his end of the agreement and stop blaming his workers for the incompetence of him and his team.”
The union said about 94 percent of its 6,000 members voted Sunday, July 15 to allow union leadership to authorize a strike against Metro, also known as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA).
In a press conference outside the union headquarters late Sunday, ATU President Jackie Jeter said the union must give Metro officials a five-day notice whenever stewards are pulled off work.
It still remains unclear exactly when and if a strike will happen. However, The union will not make public a “timeline of events but will share developments at the appropriate time.”
The last strike, according to the union, took place in 1978 and lasted for one week.
On July 4, some workers arrived more than an hour late to work in efforts to confirm their discontent to Metro officials about privatization initiatives, job cuts and changes to several policies that had at that time recently been enacted.
Jeter said “the last straw” came more recently when Metro officials reassigned janitors to work potentially on night shifts only at Metrorail stations and without proper notification.
“It’s not right. It’s not fair. It’s against the collective bargaining agreement and it has just pushed us too far,” she said.
Metro officials released a statement Monday, about three hours before the union publicized its notice, which said the agency seeks to not only protect workers but also reduce costs through effective operations.
“The authority does not want customers to suffer from additional service interruptions,” according to Metro’s statement. “Dialogue is ongoing between management and union officials to identify common ground on these matters, while keeping Metro safe, reliable and affordable for the region.”
About an hour later, Metro’s board of directors released a rare statement indicating the necessity for continued negotiations in order to keep Metro running for millions of commuters in the D.C. region.
“The general manager and his team are working to make these difficult decisions while also protecting current employees,” the board said. “We must find solutions together by continuing to talk and listen. … The collective bargaining process is the appropriate and legal path to finding solutions.”
Meanwhile, the board held its last meeting Thursday, July 12 before the commencement of the summer break. It voted to sell the Jackson Graham Building — Metro’s headquarters based in Northwest.
During the meeting, the union announced it would organize a petition drive with the purpose of removing Wiedefeld from office. However, he does have at least one ally: Metro board chairman and D.C. Councilman Jack Evans.
“I have 100 percent confidence in Paul Wiedefeld,” Evans said at a press briefing Thursday. “Any time you make changes, they are always controversial and you always have opposition. I want to express my confidence … with everybody here at Metro to the really great strides that we have made and continue to make here.”