Strikes break out in among transit and food workers in the Washington, DC region

DC Circulator workers on the picket line (Twitter/ATU Local 689) [Photo]

On Monday, nearly 200 drivers working for the privately-operated DC Circulator bus service went on strike against what Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 called “lowball offers” in its ongoing negotiations with the six-route bus system’s drivers. The Circulator, which works alongside the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), the region’s premier bus and train service, drives several of the same routes as its larger public counterpart in the District of Columbia.

Despite this, drivers at the Circulator make $5.38 less on average than WMATA’s public drivers, in one of the country’s most expensive metropolitan areas. Negotiations between ATU 689, representing 15,000 members in the DC area, and RATP Dev USA, the Circulator’s operator, have been ongoing since March.

“RATP Dev has repeatedly refused to pay what other bus operators in this region already make, instead focusing all of its energy on increasing starting pay rates so they can find new operators,” the ATU says.

The contractor has offered its workers a meager 6 percent wage increase over three years. Under conditions of inflation levels at 8 percent nationally, this amounts to an almost-20 percent wage cut over the course of the contract. A May 1 “final offer” proposed to take away rights associated with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), allowed the use of subcontractors and eliminated the concept of “progressive discipline,” in which workers can be punished harshly for first infractions .

In a provocative move, the contractor has reportedly hired the same negotiators that the multinational corporate contractor Transdev used during a strike of 120 Metrobus drivers in 2019-2020. That strike resulted in WMATA abandoning its relations with Transdev and bringing the striking workers in-house once more.

On Wednesday, RATP Dev declared that it had “made progress on wages and other terms and will continue to work together… to end this work stoppage,” while an ATU spokesperson said that it is “up to them {the company)” if a deal was reached. In the absence of a deal, the next negotiating time will be in two weeks.

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