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Union for Fairfax Connector workers blasts pay proposal as contract nears expiration

A Fairfax Connector bus in Reston (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax Connector’s operator and workers remain far apart in their negotiations for a new labor contract, says the union representing drivers and other employees of Northern Virginia’s largest public bus system.

Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 689 accused contractor Transdev of “clearly not [being] serious about bargaining in good faith” in a strongly worded statement issued last Wednesday (Nov. 22), just before Thanksgiving.

Representing 546 employees of Fairfax Connector, which serves about 26,000 daily passengers across 93 different routes, the union confirmed that it got Transdev’s latest contract offer a day earlier. Exact details of the proposal weren’t shared, but the union says workers would still be paid “well below other transit workers” in the D.C. area.

“Transdev’s latest wage offer was a slap in the face since its insulting lowball offer is contingent on the Union withdrawing all of its other economic proposals which include better sick leave, reduced healthcare costs, and retirement security,” ATU Local 689 said in its statement.

The union also claimed that Transdev has “continuously dragged their feet” when responding to requests for meeting dates since the collective bargaining process began in October.

Transdev, a French company that took over Fairfax Connector’s operations and maintenance in 2019, disputed the union’s characterization of the ongoing contract talks, stating that it’s “committed to continuing negotiations in good faith.”

“We value our partnership with the ATU and remain hopeful that we can come to a mutually-agreeable resolution quickly,” a Transdev spokesperson said by email. “We have mutually agreed with ATU to schedule our next bargaining session on 12/1.”

The Dec. 1 bargaining session will come after the existing, five-year contract expires on Nov. 30 at 11:59 p.m.

According to Local 689 spokesperson Ben Lynn, both sides will continue to operate under the current contract even after it expires. Determining worker pay, benefits, working conditions and other issues, the contract was secured in early 2020 after a four-day strike upended bus service throughout the county.

The union could call for a strike authorization vote at any time, but Lynn says nothing has been scheduled so far.

Transdev says it doesn’t anticipate any service disruptions as a result of the agreement expiring.

In its statement, ATU Local 689 said it has “reached tentative agreements on a variety of issues,” but on several of its top concerns, which include wage increases, improved sick leave, retirement security and standardized schedules, the union has been met with “abysmally low numbers” or outright rejection.

“Local 689 members worked on the front line throughout the pandemic to move thousands of people every day across the region,” the union said. “Transdev’s employees deserve to have their dedication and hardwork respected by the company. They have refused to offer a realistic economic proposal that would account for the intense economic pressures impacting its employees over the past three years while continuing to profit off the backs of their workers.”

Fairfax Connector’s labor negotiations come at a challenging time for public transit in the D.C. area, as Metro faces a potential $750 million budget gap and declining fare revenue even as ridership starts to bounce back after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Without significant additional funding, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority said in October that it could be forced to drastically reduce rail and bus service starting July 2024, raise fares and lay off up to 4,700 workers.

ATU Local 689, which also represents Metro workers, warned WMATA against “balancing Metro’s budget on the backs of workers,” arguing that cutting service levels and worker compensation “simply will not solve the systemic funding issues plaguing” the transit agency.

According to Axios DC, Metro General Manager and CEO Randy Clarke will present an official budget proposal to the agency’s board of directors on Dec. 14.

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