Local Family Mourns Loved Ones Killed in Gaza — Hani Almadhoun and his family are “numb with grief” after his brother, sister-in-law and their four children were all killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza the morning after Thanksgiving — just before a pause in attacks that resumed Friday (Dec. 1). A memorial service was recently held in Franconia. [NBC4]
Lumber Yard Closes After Two Centuries in Business — Smoot Lumber yard shut down Friday after operating for more than 200 years. Located in Springfield at the border with Alexandria City, the “supplier of mouldings, doors and windows has been a staple for local builders since it was founded in 1822.” [ALXnow]
Police Rescue Dog Stuck in Air Vent — “A 17-year-old Shih Tzu named Maya had to be rescued after somehow getting herself stuck in an air duct last weekend in Fairfax County, Virginia. The rescue and reunion with her owner played out on police bodycam footage posted on social media Friday by the Fairfax County Police Department.” [WTOP]
County’s Hypothermia Shelter Program Underway — “Our Hypothermia Prevention Program is in place to ensure no one experiencing homelessness sleeps outside during the winter. The program provides warm shelter, food, clothing, connections to supportive services and more for unhoused individuals.” [Fairfax County Government]
N. Va. Officials Concerned by Transportation Funding Changes — “Some Northern Virginia elected leaders and transit advocates are expressing concern over plans to change SMART SCALE, the commonwealth’s transportation funding program. They say the proposals could make standalone bike and pedestrian projects less competitive for funding, and could also hurt support for transit.” [DCist]
Fairfax City Adopts Non-Discrimination Program — “The Fairfax City Council affirmed the city’s commitment to non-discrimination when it adopted the city’s first formal Title VI program on Nov. 28…Title VI provides that no person shall be discriminated against on the grounds of race, color, or national origin,” later expanding to include “disability, age, income status, sexual orientation, gender identification, and persons with limited English proficiency.” [City of Fairfax]
FCPS Electric School Buses Reach Milestone — “Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) recognized a milestone during an event on Tuesday [Nov. 28] — a combined one million miles driven by Virginia electric school buses. Employees with the school district and Dominion Energy gathered in Lorton, Virginia at 11 a.m. to celebrate the achievement.” [WJLA]
Fire Department Shares Hannukah Safety Reminder — “Hanukkah starts this week! To keep safe and festive, consider using battery-operated flameless candles. If using traditional candles – ensure your menorah is on a sturdy surface & keep at least 1ft from anything that can burn. Don’t forget to blow out all candles!” [FCFRD/Twitter]
It’s Monday — Expect a partly sunny day with a high temperature of around 52 degrees and a northwest wind blowing at 6 to 9 mph. As evening approaches, the skies will be partly cloudy and the temperature will drop to around 36 degrees. [Weather.gov]
In the future, people who earn more than Fairfax County’s median income will likely no longer be able to buy workforce housing.
A task force recommended to the Board of Supervisors housing committee on Tuesday (Nov. 28) that the top income bracket be dropped from the Workforce Dwelling Unit (WDU) Homebuyer Program, which currently provides price-controlled townhouses and condominiums to people who make 80% to 120% of the area median income (AMI).
Building on a revision of the county’s rental WDU program in 2021, the task force proposed dropping the 120% AMI tier and adding 70% AMI households — which are already offered at some properties — as part of a general policy overhaul intended to make the homebuyer program more efficient and effective.
“The recommendation that came out of the task force was really to reset the program and shift everything down by a third,” Anna Shapiro, the county’s deputy director of real estate finance and development, said. “…It was recognized that there is a financial impact to resetting the program, but it would be balanced by the predictability of having the policy reset in a way that developers understood going into the program what they’d be required to do.”
Initiated by the Board of Supervisors in February, the 13-person WDU For-Sale Policy Task Force included county staff, residential developers, affordable housing advocates and other industry experts. With help from the consultant HR&A Advisors, it met from April to October to evaluate the existing program, research best practices and develop recommendations for improvements.
Right now, the county grants residential developers bonus density if they designate at least 12% of all units as affordable or workforce housing, except in Tysons, which has higher requirements. For WDUs, the countywide policy requires that 4% of the total units target each of the 80%, 100% and 120% AMI tiers.
According to Shapiro, the 120% AMI WDUs are more difficult to sell, staying on the market for 419 days on average — almost twice as long as even the 100% units, which average 235 days. In comparison, units at 70% and 80% AMI sell in around 74 and 104 days, respectively.
In general, the county’s supply of for-sale WDUs is limited, but of the 12 units for 120% AMI that have been produced, 42% remain unsold. The lack of demand reflects stronger competition from market-rate housing, Shapiro explained, noting that 46% of the homes sold in the county since 2020 are affordable to those in the 100-120% AMI range.
With developers shouldering the cost of any unsold units, they have shifted toward units aimed at lower income levels during proffer negotiations, where the county can set conditions for a project’s approval.
“There is a huge demand that we see for units below 80% AMI, so we really wanted to see how we can serve that population better,” Shapiro said.
In addition to adjusting the AMI range, the task force recommends requiring that the number of WDUs with three or more bedrooms be proportional to the number of similarly sized market-rate units.
“If you then produce a lot of two and three-bedroom market rate units but then a lot of your WDUs are one-bedroom or studio, it’s really an equity issue as well as a marketability issue for the property,” Shapiro told the committee. Read More
Low Interest in Virginia’s Medical Cannabis Program — “A new study that takes a close look at Virginia’s medical marijuana program showed that many marijuana users are simply ignoring the program and finding the drug elsewhere…The average price per gram for marijuana flower in Virginia is around $14, the study found,” which is more expensive than both D.C. and Maryland. [WTOP]
Fair Oaks Mall Owners Miss Loan Deadline — “The owners of Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax — the region’s second-largest shopping center — have missed an extended payoff deadline on distressed loans totaling about $239 million…Notes to bondholders indicate negotiations and efforts to stabilize the property are underway, but they also note that foreclosure proceedings could be on the table as early as February.” [Washington Business Journal]
Great Falls Residents Challenge Mental Health Group Home — “A Great Falls group home has drawn the ire of neighbors who say the facility offers services exceeding those approved by the Fairfax County government and lets its charges wander around the vicinity.” After Mission for Michael officials didn’t testify on Nov. 15, the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals “set a new public hearing for Jan. 31 next year, but demanded a representative of the group home be present.” [Gazette Leader]
Annandale Getting Another Hot Chicken Restaurant — “Crimson Coward Nashville Hot Chicken is coming to the vacant storefront at 7004 Columbia Pike in the Annandale Shopping Center between Collector’s World and Sweet Frog…The chicken is prepared with a ‘crimson rub’ consisting of dozens of spices. There are five levels of heat.” [Annandale Today]
Renovated Hotel Near Fort Belvoir Celebrates Reopening — “The Hampton Inn & Suites Fort Belvoir Alexandria South, which broke ground along the Richmond Highway Corridor 15 years ago and opened in 2009, held a grand reopening celebration Nov. 29 after a complete interior and exterior renovation earlier this year.” [On the MoVe]
Santa Events Coming to County Parks — “Enjoy the spirit of the holidays with Santa at Fairfax County Parks beginning this weekend.” The “jolly old elf” will appear at Sully Historic Site tomorrow (Saturday), Frying Pan Farm Park on Fridays and Saturdays throughout the month, and at Burke Lake on Saturdays and Sundays. [Fairfax County Park Authority]
Santa Fire Truck Rides Start in McLean — Continuing a decades-long tradition, the McLean Volunteer Fire Department will transform its antique fire truck into a sleigh for Santa, who will hand out free candy canes throughout McLean. The sleigh will visit different neighborhoods, starting at 5 p.m., from Dec. 2-6 and can be tracked in real time on the department’s website. [McLean VFD/Facebook]
Swearing-In Ceremony Planned for County Officials — “The Board of Supervisors invites you to the Inauguration Ceremony for Fairfax County’s 15th Urban County Board of Supervisors, Fairfax County’s Constitutional Officers, and Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District Directors. Reception begins at 5 p.m. Ceremony begins at 6 p.m.” on Dec. 13. [Fairfax County Government]
It’s Friday — There’s an 80% chance of rain, mainly after 2pm, with a high near 51 and south winds of 5-13 mph, gusting up to 18 mph. Friday night, rain is likely before 7pm, followed by cloudiness and a low of 46. [Weather.gov]
Anticipating slow growth in the real estate tax base and only a modest increase in general fund revenues, local officials are preparing for a slim budget in the next fiscal year.
At a joint meeting on Tuesday (Nov. 28), the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and the school board got an early forecast of projected revenues, expenditures and general priorities for the county government and public school system’s fiscal year 2025 budgets.
Christina Jackson, the county’s chief financial officer, emphasized that the forecast is an early estimate of the budget.
“We recognize that this was going to be a challenging year,” said Jackson.
County officials anticipate a combined net budgetary shortfall of $284.5 million.
Based on last month’s projections, non-residential tax revenue is expected to grow by 1.9% from the current fiscal year 2024 rate of 3.6%. In fiscal year 2023, non-residential tax revenue stood at 7.3%.
That’s coupled with substantially lower growth in the real estate tax base for next year — a mere 1.7% compared to 6.6% in the current fiscal year. The residential real estate market has softened as a result of high mortgage rates, but values are still expected to increase by 2.1% due to low supply, county staff said.
Funding conversations continue in the background of a study that found Virginia’s school divisions receive 14% less funding from the state than the average for all 50 states.
Calling the state’s underfunding “a generational wrong,” McKay said the report by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) is a critical opportunity to shift the statewide conversation about the state’s funding formulas.
“This study can either collect dust and be ignored, or this study can be acted on and Virginia can get ahead of West Virginia and Kentucky, which frankly should embarrass everyone who lives in Virginia,” McKay said.
Ricardy Anderson, who represents Mason District on the school board and chairs the board’s budget committee, highlighted the space constraints that Fairfax County Public Schools already faces.
“We cannot trailer our way out of this issue, because the schools are growing,” she said, noting that at one school, the entire fifth grade is housed in trailers.
She suggested that the county restart a conversation about adopting a meals tax in order to generate revenue. County voters rejected a referendum in 2016, but the General Assembly approved a bill in 2020 that gave counties the authority to tax food and beverages without a referendum. Read More
The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department is working on ways to improve service by reorganizing units and tackling recruitment and staffing challenges.
The changes were discussed at a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ safety and security committee meeting on Tuesday (Nov. 28).
The FCFRD is focused on using data to inform changes to operations, guiding how and when medics are converted to ambulances and where units are located, department officials told the committee.
According to a presentation delivered by Fairfax County Fire Chief John Butler and Operations Chief Dan Shaw, the department reorganized and reassessed its emergency medical services delivery between 2021 and 2022.
In January 2022, eight advanced life support units were converted to basic life support units. The following month, four more advanced life support units were converted.
The FCFRD has also studied ways to improve its EMS dispatch protocol and overall service delivery and deployment. In September, for example, the department implemented a new emergency medical protocol to ensure needs are properly understood as resources are dispatched to handle emergencies.
In January, the department plans to convert another eight advance life support units to basic life support. A paramedic will remain at each fire station.
The department also plans to introduce a new EMS specialist position that can offer a higher skill set and bring more advanced intervention and equipment to the incident. Shaw said the position is a big moment for the fire department.
“This allows the opportunity to employ a paramedic and deliver a higher level of service,” Shaw said.
Still, a national shortage of paramedics is a challenge due to a notable decrease in people pursuing public safety professions overall, officials said. To maintain its minimum staffing of 363 personnel, the FCFRD relies heavily on mandatory overtime.
The department has around 100 vacancies, according to FCFRD spokesperson Ashley Hildebrandt.
“While we are not immune to the recruitment challenges being experienced nationwide throughout the fire service, our department has worked, and continues to work, diligently to increase recruitment efforts to ensure the residents of Fairfax County continue to receive the high quality services the department is known for,” Hildebrandt said.
Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity said he continues to be concerned by the drop in the number of paramedics.
“Fairfax County needs to do better than the national trend and the national average,” he said.
The fire and rescue department is currently in the midst of analyzing its staffing model and hours of overtime recorded by personnel.
At the meeting, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay countered Herrity’s assertion that the county needs to step up its efforts to address staffing challenges by stressing that the county and its public safety agencies are investing time and resources to tackle the issue.
“It is disgraceful to the people who are killing themselves recruiting people,” McKay said, adding that he’s “tired of this nonsense.”
McKay said repeating incorrect statistics about the number of vacancies — particularly in the police department — works against the county’s goal of recruiting more people and establishing the progress that has been made.
After reporting 206 vacancies in early April, the Fairfax County Police Department welcomed over 100 new trainees across two academy classes this year. A cohort of 56 recruits this spring was trumpeted as the FCPD Academy’s largest class in almost 10 years, and it was followed in the summer by an even bigger session with 59 people.
According to McKay, the FCPD’s vacancy rate is now closer to 127 positions.
The county’s Department of Public Safety Communications, which operates the 911 center, has also chipped away at its vacancies to the point where the department anticipated reducing required overtime this fall.
Wells Fargo Office Building in Annandale Eyed for Housing — Nicholas Development “is in early discussions with Fairfax County planning staff about a residential conversion for 7620 Little River Turnpike, says Senior Vice President Timothy Sachs. The six-story building is vacant except for a Wells Fargo bank branch on the ground floor.” [Annandale Today]
Reston Robotics Team Heads to National Championships — “Students from Reston’s Ideaventions Academy for Mathematics and Science are traveling to Arlington, Texas on Thursday to compete in the Bell Advanced Vertical Robotics national championships. This is the second year in a row that the school’s robotics team has made it to the nationals.” [Patch]
Lorton Water-Cleaning Plant Opens for Tours — “For anyone who’s ever wondered what happens to our water after we’ve used it, you can find out on Saturday. From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on December 2 there will be an open house at the Noman Cole Pollution Control Plant…Visitors will learn how water is cleaned after it goes down the drain in homes and businesses, or even down sewers on County streets.” [DPWES]
Tex-Mex Grill Expanding to Hybla Valley — “El Fresco Tex-Mex Grill, whose first restaurant was opened by Iranian immigrant Steve Ganji in Chantilly, Virginia, in 2008, has turned to franchising for expansion, with a franchise-owned El Fresco opening in Alexandria next month.” The new restaurant will be at 7324 Richmond Highway. [WTOP]
Tysons Rental Rates Dip From Previous Month — “November apartment-seekers in Tysons ended up paying a little less than those on the hunt a month before, but more than those who were seeking leases a year ago. The median one-bedroom rent of $2,024 and median two-bedroom rent of $2,420 added up to a decrease of 1.1 percent month-over-month but an increase of 0.7 percent year-over-year.” [Gazette Leader]
Educational Center Now Open at Chantilly Park — “The Fairfax County Park Authority celebrated the completion of the new Woodlands Stewardship Education Center with a ribbon cutting on Saturday, Nov. 18. Designed to wow adults and children alike, this interpretive facility demonstrates principles of environmental stewardship that make a world of difference in the way we interact with and affect our natural environment.” [FCPA]
Oakton Students Craft and Launch Rocket — “Students at Oakton High School in Fairfax County, Virginia, have reached soaring heights through a student rocketry program, launching a high-powered rocket 34,195 feet into the sky…The team launched the rocket in September at a rocketry event in Kansas that included rocketeers from around the country.” [WTOP]
Holiday Artisan Market Set for Vienna Return — Dozens of local vendors will sell handmade gifts, food and art at the Town of Vienna’s Holiday Open Air Artisan Market on Sunday, Dec. 3. The market will be in the Vienna Arts Center’s parking lot at 243 Church Street NW from noon to 4 p.m. [Vienna Business Association]
It’s Thursday — The weather will be mostly sunny with temperatures reaching a high of 53, accompanied by a south wind at 5 to 9 mph. As the night progresses, expect partly cloudy skies and a low of around 37, with a southwest wind blowing at 6 to 10 mph. [Weather.gov]
Fairfax Connector will pull into the Fairfax County Government Center soon for its first-ever Winterfest.
Space is quickly disappearing for the public bus system’s holiday event, which will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 9 in parking lot B of the government center (12000 Government Center Parkway).
Featuring three holiday-themed buses, free food and other treats, Winterfest is free to attend, but a general admission ticket is required for entry. As of this afternoon (Wednesday), more than half of the 500 available slots had been taken, according to the sign-up page.
Separate tickets for a planned Santa Bus, where visitors can meet jolly St. Nick, sold out within hours of going online, a Fairfax County Department of Transportation spokesperson says. In response to the demand, a second bus where attendees can get a free cookie from Mrs. Claus has been added.
Access to the “Cookies with Mrs. Claus” bus is included with general admission.
Winterfest will also feature free hot chocolate and kettle corn, games, music, a “Letters to Santa” station, and Duck donuts and Grill Cheese food trucks. Fairfax Connector will hand out coupons for free rides and other “goodies” throughout the event, according to a news release.
Following in the tracks of Metro, which has decorated a train and buses to resemble gingerbread houses, Fairfax Connector’s holiday buses hit the road earlier this week. They’re wrapped in plaid Christmas tree, Santa gnome and cookie designs.
“These buses are sure to bring a smile to your face,” the news release said. “If you spot one, safely take a picture and share with us on Facebook or Twitter. Use the hashtag #HolidayBus or #FairfaxConnector.”
People who share a photo of the buses on social media will be entered into a drawing for a $50 SmarTrip card, which can be used for Connector buses as well as Metro, Fairfax CUE buses and other local transit systems. The winner will be announced the week of Jan. 1, 2024.
During Winterfest, the tree-decorated bus will serve as the Santa bus, while Mrs. Claus will be in the cookie bus. The gnome bus will host a Stuff-a-Bus donation drive.
“To support our community, Fairfax County Department of Transportation, Fairfax Connector & Transdev are collecting new, unwrapped toys and coats for children ages 5 to 10 years old,” FCDOT said in its news release. “…The toys and coats collected will be delivered to children at three Fairfax County public schools the week of December 11, 2023.”
In a separate charitable effort, today (Thursday) marks the last day of Fairfax County’s virtual Stuff the Bus campaign, which encourages community members to make monetary donations to local nonprofits that provide food assistance.
Dulles Airport in Record-Long Snowless Streak — “From southern Virginia to New York City, nearly two years have elapsed since the last time an inch or more of snow fell on a calendar day. In several locations, the snow drought is the longest on record. The lack of snow has occurred during abnormally warm winters and amid a trend toward declining amounts of snow — both probable consequences of human-caused climate change.” [Washington Post]
Attack on Rep. Connolly Staff Gets Court Hearing — “A Congressional staff member who was struck in the head with a baseball bat in May continues to undergo therapy for the aftereffects of the concussion she suffered in the attack at Rep. Gerry Connolly’s city of Fairfax district office, the staffer testified Monday.” [Patch]
Three Men Arrested for Stealing From Tysons Galleria Stores — “At approximately 4:45 p.m. [Monday], detectives received a call from loss prevention at Sak’s Fifth Avenue for suspects actively involved in credit card fraud…Through the investigation, detectives uncovered that the suspects successfully made purchases at Neiman Marcus for over $8,000 before attempting to use stolen credit cards at Sak’s Fifth Avenue.” [FCPD]
First Reston Winterfest Starts Tomorrow — “A new holiday tradition is about to begin in Northern Virginia. Check out the inaugural ‘Winterfest’ in Reston this Thursday through Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m. ‘This is a brand new event for Reston and we are really excited,’ Cara O’Donnell of the Reston Association told WTOP.” [WTOP]
Health Food Restaurant Opens Early in Hybla Valley — “The new honeygrow restaurant at Mount Vernon Plaza…opened its doors to the public Nov. 27 after a private ribbon-cutting ceremony with company management. Originally scheduled to open in early 2024, the restaurant got a jump start thanks to an accelerated construction timeline.” [On the MoVe]
McLean Book Store Plans Grand Opening — “Fonts Books & Gifts is holding a grand opening celebration on Dec. 2 at its location in Chesterbrook Plaza in McLean. The celebration begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday…The store’s website is open for online orders for in-store pickup only. Fonts plans to start shipping books in January.” [Patch]
County Library Adds Air Quality Monitors to Stock — Fairfax County Public Library launched a new service on Monday (Nov. 27), offering air quality monitors, battery testers and other meters and readers that can be used to measure everything from carbon monoxide levels to soil acidity. The free devices can be checked out for three-week periods from any branch. [FCPL]
Metro Rolls Out Gingerbread-Themed Train — “Tis the season for holiday joy! We come bearing gifts. Check out our wrapped train that entered service early. Don’t worry, there’s more where that came from! Metrobus up next, starting Dec. 1. Happy holidays!” [WMATA/Twitter]
It’s Wednesday — Expect sunshine and a high around 39 degrees, accompanied by a south wind blowing at 7 to 10 mph. The night will be mostly clear and cooler with a low temperature of 28 degrees, while the southwest wind continues at 6 to 10 mph. [Weather.gov]
The Virginia Department of Education is launching a pilot program to help support new and inexperienced principals at federally designated at-risk schools in an effort to address what officials call a “crucial need.”
“We are excited about it. Mentoring principals has been a long time coming to the commonwealth,” said Randy Barrack, CEO of the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals, which along with the Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals is partnering with VDOE, in an email to the Mercury.
Nationally, 80% of all public school principals remained at the same school in 2020-21 where they had been the year prior, according to National Center for Education Statistics data. The remaining 20% moved to a different school or left the principal role altogether.
In Virginia, according to reporting by WTOP, Fairfax County has lost dozens of principals since the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who spoke with the news station cited pandemic-related burnout and growing pressures to overcome learning loss as reasons for leaving the profession. Some also said their departures were due to a disconnect with and lack of transparency from administrative offices.
Virginia’s principal vacancy rate is less than 2% for each of the three school levels — elementary, middle and secondary, according to VDOE data from 2021 to 2023.
Under state law, new principals serve a three-year probationary period before acquiring continuing contract status.
Krista Arnold, executive director of the Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals, said many principals accept leadership positions with limited years of experience because of the growing national shortage of educators. Mentors, she said, will be able to provide management and instructional tips.
“This is going to give new principals a highly skilled, experienced veteran who’s not within their division, who is a safe person for them to talk to, who could be a sounding board because the principalship is really lonely and can be isolating,” said Arnold, who spent 20 years as an elementary school principal.
Besides shaping instruction, Arnold said principals have a significant influence on student achievement, attendance, teacher retention and community involvement.
Virginia’s new mentorship program, she said, will hopefully end the outdated notion that principals should be left to “sink or swim” and instead offer essential aid and support, “providing a partner in what too often can often be an isolating role.”
The program’s focus on principals in at-risk schools, whose populations include students from low-income families with a higher than average probability of dropping out or failing school, will also help improve teacher performance and student learning, Barrack and Arnold said in a joint statement with the Department of Education.
The pilot program is expected to be rolled out before the start of the next school year.
“Principals are the leaders in their school buildings. They set the tone and are the ones looked to establish a vision for high standards and success,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Coons in a statement. “For many new principals, it can be tough, on-the-job training. With this mentoring pilot project, we are focusing on supporting our new principals leading in some of our most challenged schools and equipping them with support that can help them and their schools be successful.”
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.