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Fairfax Connector workers seek pay raise, better sick leave in new contract

A Fairfax Connector bus near the Dunn Loring Metro station (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Negotiations over pay, benefits and working conditions are underway for hundreds of Fairfax Connector employees.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 presented an initial proposal on Oct. 13 for a contract that would cover 546 members who work for Fairfax County’s bus system to Transdev, the company that operates the transit service, the union said in a press release yesterday (Monday).

With its current contract set to expire Nov. 30, the union says workers are seeking wage increases “to keep competitive with other transit companies,” improved sick leave, retirement security for current and future employees and standard 40-hour, 5-days-per-week schedules at all bus garages.

However, bargaining sessions scheduled for yesterday and today (Tuesday) were canceled over the weekend by Transdev, according to ATU Local 689, which said it was told the contractor “would not be ready to counter” its proposal.

“It is extremely disappointing that while Local 689 worked tirelessly to craft a new contract proposal and prepared to bargain in good faith, Transdev has apparently failed to do the same,” Local 689 President Raymond Jackson said in a statement. “Our members providing a public service in Fairfax County are dedicated professionals who deserve a fair contract. Local 689 remains committed to advocating for our members and is ready to meet with Transdev to negotiate the new contract. We hope Transdev prioritizes the contract talks and its employees, not profit.”

FFXnow reached out to a Transdev spokesperson for comment but didn’t hear back by press time.

The largest local bus system in Northern Virginia, Fairfax Connector transports about 26,000 passengers per day across 93 different routes, according to its website.

Though ridership plummeted in the first two years of the pandemic, it bounced back starting last summer, and this June, it surpassed 2019 levels with more than 774,000 riders for the month, according to data reported by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

When the Connector’s workers last had contract negotiations in 2019, bus drivers and mechanics — who were represented at the time by a different ATU chapter, Local 1764 — went on strike for four days before the union and Transdev signed a back-to-work agreement. Workers eventually ratified a new, four-year contract on Feb. 29, 2020, averting the possibility of a second strike.

According to a Local 689 spokesperson, Connector workers were assigned to their current chapter after Local 1764 went into receivership in 2021.

ATU Local 689, whose 15,000-plus members include employees of Metrobus and Alexandria’s DASH, welcomed former Local 1764 members on March 25, 2021, stating that “the companies kept us apart” even though members did the same work, often in the same garages.

This year’s negotiations are taking place in a different environment for organized labor, which has gained public support in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After authorizing a strike, local office cleaners won pay bumps earlier this month that their union called “historic,” and Kaiser Permanente workers secured 21% raises following a three-day strike on Oct. 4-6. The United Auto Workers expanded a strike against vehicle manufacturers in Detroit yesterday, while negotiations between Hollywood studios and the actors’ union, SAG-AFTRA, are slated to resume today — 103 days after they went on strike.

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation has a five-year, $443 million contract with Transdev, which took over the Connector’s operations and maintenance in July 2019 from the previous contractor, MV Transportation, according to previous reporting by the Washington Post.

“FCDOT Connector has no comments about this matter at this time,” FCDOT said when asked about the current talks.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay, who met with the union and Transdev to resolve the 2019 strike, says he has “not been privy” to the new contract discussions, since they’re still at a relatively early stage.

“My hope is that Transdev and the members of ATU Local 689 can come to a mutually agreeable contract that prevents a disruption of service,” McKay told FFXnow.

According to Local 689, there are three scheduled bargaining sessions remaining before the contract expires next month. The union claims that Transdev dragged its feet on providing available dates earlier this year.

“Local 689 is in the process of rescheduling the sessions with Transdev, and is more than willing to add additional sessions if needed,” the union said.

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