Commuters were spared a transit shutdown for at least one more day as union representatives and Metro leadership plan another day to talk it out.
Tensions between the two reached fever pitch on Sunday night as union members voted to strike but didn’t say when — leaving the ball in Metro’s court for coming to the table or risking a total system shutdown. After an exchange of testy press releases on Monday the two sides agreed to meet for possible peace talks on Tuesday, which led to another truce extended until Wednesday.
In a statement, Metro said it had a “constructive and frank discussion” after talks concluded with the representatives from the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, which represents about 8,000 of Metro’s 12,500 employees.
Union spokesperson David Stephen said “there has been no change in either party’s position” in a statement, but wrote the union had agreed to meet with Metro again on Wednesday.
When asked whether the parties had failed to solve their problems, and if a strike remains on the table, Mr. Stephen told The Washington Times Tuesday evening that that was “All true.”
Train operator Thomas Brockenberry, 41, has worked for Metro and been a member of ATU for the past 11 years. He says one of the biggest issues workers have complained to Metro about is a sick-day policy that penalizes workers for taking sick time.
The current policy requires workers to give three days notice to use the time off, which leads workers to get in trouble for sudden onset illness, and earns them demerits if they get sicker and need consecutive days off, Mr. Brockenberry says.
“I understand starting discipline after you use your given time but to discipline before that no,” Mr. Brockenberry told The Times in a social media message, emphasizing he spoke for himself and not on behalf of the union.
The union’s plans to strike are illegal under the 1969 compact that created the regional transit system and specifies how labor disputes can be resolved. The last time Metro workers walked off the job was in 1978 with a “wildcat” strike unauthorized by the union. If Metro workers do it today the union could face steep fines.
“It is very well documented that unlike anywhere else in the country we are unable to legally strike. So there are very substantial risks to it,” said Mr. Brockenberry, who added that striking is a last resort.
Tuesday’s talks did prevent a Metro shutdown affecting Tuesday night’s MLB All-Star Game, which thousands had poured into the city to attend, but a prolonged shutdown later could still inconvenience commuters, tourists, and the food industry which relies on both.
Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans told The Associated Press when it came to planning the strike that “the timing is definitely not a coincidence.”
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