Metro board of directors approved a two-year contract extension Thursday for agency General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, which would allow the leader of the second-largest transit agency in the nation to receive a nearly 10 percent increase for a base salary of $435,000.
According to an employment amendment, severance benefits will increase from 12 to 24 months “for termination without cause.”
Although Wiedefeld still had one more year under his current four-year term until November 2019, board chairman and D.C. Councilman Jack Evans said this allows leadership to remain intact and maintain “stability of Metro.”
“I want to make sure that he stays and I want to be sure his senior staff who work for Metro … [stays] as well,” said Evans, who joined six other colleagues to approve the contract extension. “We have a very good general manager and staff who are being pursued by other transit organizations. I would not want to see them leave.”
Michael Goldman, who represents Montgomery County, Maryland, on the board, supports Wiedefeld’s work, but said offering a contract extension while having workers put in long hours and riders endure extensive construction projects shows a lack of empathy.
“The optics of this are bad,” said Goldman, the lone board member to vote against the extension. “We should be an effort of shared sacrifice, but the efforts we’re taking today don’t demonstrate any shared sacrifice.”
Wiedefeld, who joined Metro in November 2015 after leading the Baltimore Transit Administration and Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport, instituted major projects in the name of safety and improve service on the more than 40-year-old system.
He incorporated the yearlong SafeTrack program that scaled back late-night service to bring the agency’s first preventive maintenance program. He also eliminated the older rail cars and implemented the more modern 7000-series models.
Wiedefeld help lead the effort this year for D.C., Maryland and Virginia officials to approve $500 million of annual dedicated funding for Metro, which the agency never received.
However, ridership has decreased with fewer trains available that local transit advocates say hurts low-income riders.
According to audio from WMAL News radio, Wiedefeld said after Thursday’s meeting with reporters that working for Metro is “the best job I have ever had.”
“I have not come here to build my resume,” said Wiedefeld, who hasn’t received a raise since he joined the agency. “I took this job very well aware of the some of the issues. Just very fortunate to have people around me moving the same way.”
Also under Wiedfeld’s leadership, the agency has chosen to eliminate vacant positions and use private contractors to conduct track and maintenance work.
It’s one of many decisions which has created a public rift with Metro’s biggest union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689. The union threatened to strike in July and has since called for the board to fire Wiedefeld.
“You sit here and spit in the face of those very employees that do this work every day by agreeing to give a general manager a 10 percent increase,” said ATU Local 689 President Jackie Jeter. “He has made some kind of sense to this group of people that he’s supposed to contract all the jobs, get rid of the middle class in this region…with total disregard for the workforce.”
Malcolm Augustine, an alternate board member from Prince George’s County who cannot vote on board matters, called the decision “unconscionable.”
In addition, board members and agency officials complained when an arbitration board ruled last month in favor of ATU Local 689 workers will receive wage increases, but only average of 1.6 percent over a four-year fiscal period until July 2020. One of the three members on panel who represented Metro said to pay for the additional wages would have to come from the three jurisdictions.
“The board thinks it’s appropriate to give a 10 percent raise while complaining about the money [arbitration board] passed … and that has to come from the jurisdictions? It’s just hypocritical,” Augustine said.