Metro: Dialogue ‘ongoing’ after union strike threat

WASHINGTON — Metro and its largest union remain in discussions after the union voted Sunday to let its leaders call a strike, Metro said Monday afternoon.

“The Authority does not want customers to suffer from additional service interruptions,” Metro said in a statement. “Dialogue is ongoing between Management and Union officials to identify common ground on these matters, while keeping Metro safe, reliable and affordable for the region.”

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 has expressed concerns about Metro’s plans to hire more contractors and changes to some work rules, but has not been specific about what it wants from Metro in order to avoid a strike.

Local 689 President Jackie Jeter said the “last straw” that triggered the strike authorization vote was changes for custodians, which moved shifts from other parts of the system to rail stations.

The union has also called for the ouster of General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, and remains concerned about his effort to eliminate pensions for new employees and to limit cost increases.

An arbitration panel could rule any day on a new contract for the union. Binding arbitration exists at Metro in large part because strikes and other labor actions are not allowed.

The union voted Sunday to give its leadership the power to call a strike anyway, 94 percent to 6 percent, spokesman David Stephen said.

It is not clear whether or when a strike might actually happen.

“The union has no plans to make their timeline of events public but will share developments at the appropriate time,” Stephen said.

Dueling statements

In a rare statement attributed to the entire Metro Board, the board members said Wiedefeld is making difficult decisions, and the workers and Metro leadership must continue to talk and listen.

“The collective bargaining process is the appropriate and legal path to finding solutions,” the statement said.

The union was not impressed.

“For the past two years, ATU  Local 689 has come to the WMATA board demonstrating to them the many ways Metro’s General Manager Paul Wiedefeld – the man that they hired – has been pissing on the collective bargaining agreement between ATU Local 689 and WMATA, and they still don’t get it,” the union responded in a statement.

Late Monday, the union said it planned to meet with Metro management Tuesday, and expected to report back on results Tuesday afternoon.

“It is not our intention to disrupt the MLB All-Star game, and we would hope that #WMATA shares our desire to talk in good faith and will not use this meeting as a stop gap to get through the big day,” the union tweeted.

‘We will not write a blank check’

Virginia House Republicans called for a court order to block any strike.

“This action is illegal on its face, would be devastating to Northern Virginia, and must be challenged immediately,” Virginia House GOP leadership said in a statement.

“The ATU’s action threatens not only to cripple the region, but also to do significant damage to the political progress we’ve made over the last year. We will not write a blank check to a dysfunctional organization,” the statement said.

Metro’s statement largely agreed, citing the continuing effort to limit operating cost increases as required by Virginia’s funding bill.

Metro also has an estimated $2.8 billion unfunded pension and health liability after years of choosing not to properly fund the plans. The proportion of unfunded liabilities are in line with those of a number of governments in the region.

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