Northern Va. Metrobus drivers go on strike; bus lines affected

Workers at a recently privatized Metrobus garage in Virginia are on strike Thursday, and that means major disruptions for thousands of commuters.

Metrobus service from the Cinder Bed Bus Facility is operating on a Sunday schedule on the 29N, K and Richmond Highway Express (REX) Line. The 29W Express, 29C, 29G, S80, 17s, 18s or Tag service lines are not operating, but there is no impact to rail service, according to a WMATA spokesperson.

The drivers threatened to strike in August at the recently privatized Cinder Bed Road garage in Lorton, Virginia, if negotiations did not make progress.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 has been negotiating with operator Transdev for months on a collective bargaining agreement. The union refused to continue to take pay cuts in comparison to other Metrobus workers, as demanded by the private company.

The company offered other proposals in negotiations since the garage was privatized last year.

The garage operates routes, such as the Richmond Highway Express (REX), 29K, 29G, 29H, 29C, 29N, 29W, 17B, 17G, 17H, 17M, 17K, S80, S91, 18P, 18G, 18J, and 18H. Combined, they represent about 5% of Metrobus service, all focused in Northern Virginia.

In a statement Thursday morning, WMATA’s Ron Holzer said that Transdev is obligated to provide Metrobus service from the Cinder Bed Bus Facility under the terms of its contract with Metro.

Contract negotiations are scheduled to continue at 10 a.m. Thursday at a hotel not far from the garage, union spokesman Brian Wivell said.

The deal took on increased significance due to similar labor negotiations with privatized operations elsewhere in the region. The possibility that Metro could contract out work on the Silver Line extension to Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County when service starts in about a year has added weight to the negotiations.

“This is bigger than just one bus garage,” Wivell said. “Transdev is just one of many examples of failed privatization in the region.”

Wivell had no estimate of how long the strike might last.

“Our demand is that these workers get basically exactly what every other operator in the region is getting, specifically WMATA operators, because they’re doing the same work,” he said.

In addition to a picket line at the garage Thursday, other members of the union plan to show up at the Metro Board meeting Thursday.

The union also represents front-line workers employed directly by Metro at other bus garages and across the rail system. No work stoppage is planned that would impact additional bus or rail service.

“The Cinder Bed workers have walked off the job because they’ve had enough,” ATU International President John Costa said in a statement.

“They are fed up with being used as pawns for austerity-minded politicians that want to ‘cut-costs’ on the backs of workers and riders while Transdev is raking in profits off their low wages.”

Metro and Transdev did not immediately reply to a request for comment when the union announced the strike late Wednesday night.

At a Congressional hearing Tuesday, Metro and oversight officials praised a recently improved working relationship with the union.

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