Metro's Largest Union Challenges Contract Talks, Demands Raises

WASHINGTON — Members of Metro’s largest union packed into the Metro Board meeting Thursday to challenge Metro’s position in ongoing contract talks.

“Who moves this city? We move this city!” the couple hundred people chanted.

Bus operator Jampsea Campbell told the Metro Board workers are “outraged and disgusted” by contract negotiations so far.

Outside Metro headquarters, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 President Jackie Jeter told reporters that Metro’s latest contract proposals call for no raises for workers as well as cuts to all benefits including pensions, working conditions, sick leave and vacation.

Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld declined to comment on negotiations citing a confidentiality agreement. Jeter said Wiedefeld’s funding proposal for the agency violated that deal by signaling what Metro was planning to save through salary cuts.

That plan, and a similar proposal from a Council of Governments technical panel that recommended a new regionwide 1 percent sales tax, assumes that there are no raises for workers.

Metro wants to push all workers out of its pension system that the agency chose for years not to fund, Jeter said. Wiedefeld has publicly said that he wanted to put only new employees into a 401(k)-style contribution retirement program.

Jeter said Wiedefeld has not personally been at the bargaining table during recent negotiations.

The most recent union proposal asked for 2 percent raises, Jeter said, and Metro offered no raises.

Last month, Jeter said contract talks had broken down.

Absenteeism policy

The union also remains concerned about Metro’s new policy on missing work that was implemented in March.

To draw attention to the new distinctions that can lead to discipline for taking sick days without three-day advance notice, some workers put in that 72 hour notice this week to say that they may call out Friday.

The union and Metro say there is not nor has there never been any threat of an actual work issue or disruption in service, but the union believes the requirement to give that much notice just so that an absence counts as excused does not make sense.

“Who calls in sick 72 hours ahead of time?” Jeter said.

The policy requires a written warning and counseling for any worker who is out three times over the course of 12 months with less than three-days notice to supervisors.

Six unexcused absences require a one-day suspension and additional administrative action.

Nine unexcused absences within 12 months leads to a final warning and three-day suspension, and a 10th can lead to a worker being fired.

Wiedefeld called his policy “straightforward.”

“Someone can get sick, and they can call in. We have basically two buckets: we have an excused absence and an unexcused absence,” Wiedefeld said.

“If you give us [72 hours] notice, then it’s no issue at all … we can plan to have someone there,” he said.

The union was not consulted on the new policy, Jeter said.

In the past, Wiedefeld said absences had been handled by individual supervisors on more of a case-by-case basis.

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