WASHINGTON — Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld got a nearly 10 percent raise Thursday, as the Metro Board said it must scrounge for money from local taxpayers to cover smaller cost-of-living raises for workers.
Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans and others on the board said Wiedefeld has been doing a wonderful job and the raise to a base salary of $435,000 — plus a two-year contract extension to November 2021 — will keep a key leader in place.
The term sheet also said Wiedefeld could receive 5 to 10 percent raises each year, based on unspecified assessments of “performance.” Those raises could continue indefinitely, because the deal will renew on an annual basis beginning in 2021, unless Wiedefeld or Metro opts out.
“I think the stability is critical. And I think, again, sending a message to our senior staff is very important that we value them as well as we value everyone else in this organization,” Evans said at the board meeting.
“Paul rightly deserves the increase. He has gotten no increase for the three years that he’s been here….I don’t want a Bryce Harper moment here,” Evans added after the meeting.
Wiedefeld acknowledged that he has had several job offers from outside of Metro during his time at the agency, but called his role at Metro the best job he has ever had.
“Some of the things that I’m focusing on obviously is the internal organizational issues for the next year. … We need to continue to deliver a capital program at the scale we’ve been delivering, we need to get the audits in on time, we need to basically constantly look for ways to improve the system, and that’s what I should be judged on,” Wiedefeld said.
He argued the upfront raise effective immediately was really more like a 3 percent raise per year over the time he has been at Metro, rather than a one-time raise of more than 9 percent.
Other management raises
In addition Thursday, Wiedefeld announced in a memo to employees that other management workers would get significant salary bumps to keep pace with the raises won for workers through union negotiations.
Those increases for about 1,500 non-represented employees are set to average 2.4 percent per year since 2014, which would equate to close to a 10 percent raise today, including for workers who have not been with Metro since 2014.
The change includes retroactive 3.5 percent raises for 2015 and 2016. In addition, for workers whose annual reviews ranked them highly enough, more raises will come this year. Wiedefeld said this will all be funded through “management efficiencies.”
“I am honored to continue to serve as your General Manager and believe that the Board’s vote is a testament to our entire workforce, and the many accomplishments that we have achieved together since 2015,” Wiedefeld wrote in the memo.
Only Michael Goldman of Maryland voted against the raise for Wiedefeld as a “bad idea.” But even he said Wiedefeld is doing a wonderful job on a difficult task of turning Metro around. Goldman wanted a raise to come only after a regular performance review later this year.
The other Maryland member, Clarence Crawford, said Wiedefeld deserves the raise for the thankless job of working on Metro’s turnaround, especially because “easy, fluffy decisions and nondecisions that people have made over the years are gone.”
Metro’s largest union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, said in a statement the raise for Wiedefeld is a “slap … in the face.”
“You talk about ‘you don’t have money to give to your workers, but you’re going to give a general manager a raise that don’t even get his hands dirty,” Brenda Thomas, a union leader, told the Metro Board before the vote.
Other employees who spoke at the meeting said employee morale is extremely low. Wiedefeld pushed back on that when asked by reporters after the meeting.
‘There’s supposed to be a joint sacrifice’
Prince George’s County Metro Board Alternate Malcolm Augustine praised Wiedefeld’s leadership, but said he was “dismayed” by the significant salary increase and opaque additional bonuses of 5 to 10 percent based on performance as Metro still faces significant challenges.
“It’s at the wrong time. There’s supposed to be a joint sacrifice. We’ve talked about that now for the last few years — trying to regain the trust of the riders, trying to regain the trust of the employees and the public, of the people who are paying for this, the jurisdictions, and even just symbolically. It’s just the wrong message at the wrong time,” Augustine said.
Augustine is no longer allowed to participate in official Metro Board discussions due to a Virginia law that eliminated participation of alternate board members like the current representatives of Prince George’s, Montgomery and Fairfax counties and Alexandria.
The significant salary increase is not in line with other Metro workers getting only 0–3 percent cost-of-living raises, he added.
Metro Board Member Christian Dorsey disclosed at Thursday’s meeting that an initial board resolution drafted by Metro staff had misstated the budget impact for the current year, because it apparently failed to include the $15 million cost of ending a vacation carry-over policy that Metro initially said had been covered under a previous budget action.
Instead of $7.8 million by the end of this calendar year needed from local jurisdictions, the total has actually tripled this week to $23.1 million. An additional $25.1 million is still estimated to be needed by July. The revised funding and timing of the requests led the board to extend the deadlines for local Virginia jurisdictions to pay their share two days into January and July.
Still, with that contract now in place into 2020 and Wiedefeld’s term cemented, Dorsey hopes the tensions between union leadership and Metro management could be eased through better cooperation.
ATU Local 689 has a leadership election set for later this year.