In Alexandria, tensions brewing ahead of bus union vote

bus, handles,(Getty Images/iStockphoto/ozanuysal)

WASHINGTON — Alexandria’s DASH bus operators are due to vote Thursday on whether to join the Amalgamated Transit Union after what union organizers say has been a contentious campaign, similar to a unionizing effort that failed a decade ago.

DASH operators make less than many other bus operators in the region, including Metrobus operators who are part of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689. And those who support joining the union would hope to negotiate pay and benefits increases with the city-owned transit agency.

A union-organizing flyer also challenges the pace of current raises at DASH, where it can take 20 years to reach the top of the hourly pay scale, rather than 5.

DASH fares today are cheaper than those for Metrobus, $1.75 rather than $2.

In 2008, DASH workers opted against forming a union, so it is not clear whether a majority of the approximately 130 eligible bus operators will vote Thursday to join. If they do join, they would most likely become members of Local 689, the same local that represents most Metro workers.

Union organizers and supporters plan to challenge opposition to the unionizing effort at a DASH board meeting Wednesday.

“It’s going to be quite an animated meeting, with an awful lot of people addressing their displeasure,” said Chris Townsend, the union’s national director of field mobilization.

Alexandria’s four newly elected City Council members signed a letter supporting the union, he said.

“Anti-union bigotry has no place in Alexandria,” Townsend said.

“One of the major commonalities here is that the wages and working conditions of these workers have seriously lagged behind all the nearby bus companies,” Townsend said. “I don’t want to do the same exact job on the same exact street and earn thousands of dollars per year less.”

He and a group of union supporters visited a DASH garage Monday morning ahead of Thursday’s scheduled vote.

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