The release of a proposed METRO Accountability and Reform Act on Dec. 4 has been touted as a wellspring of revisions, repairs and modernization to help the crippled transit system restructure. However, with a growing number of Metro staff positions co-opted to private contractors and hundreds of workers slated for dismissal in 2018, Metro’s largely Black workforce fear they may serve as the reform’s collateral damage.
Introduced by Rep. Barbara Comstock (R–Va.) the METRO Accountability and Reform Act reportedly aligns the transportation system with the Trump administration’s goals of increased privatization.
METRO announced in November a call for proposals from outside contractors to manage bus operations of 17 bus routes, as well as maintenance at its newly established Newington, Va., garage. Additionally, contractors have already been secured for SafeTrack maintenance, in temporary restructuring positions as required by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommendations, and for shuttle services in cases of METRO Rail service interruptions.
Metro staff and members of Amalgamated Transit Union 689 believe the impact of Comstock’s proposed realignment alongside General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld’s proposed elimination of 500 staff positions in 2018 could cripple a Black middle class that is barely still afloat.
According to a July 2017 Washington Post report, operations funding on private contractors almost doubled between 2015 and the first part of 2017, from $24.8 million to $47.4 million. Under the 2018 fiscal operating budget, that amount would rise to roughly $65 million.
“We’re trying to find out exactly when did this hiring start, and what are their roles, and what are the jobs that they’re doing,” union President Jackie Jeter told The Post. “There are a lot of contractors on the property, and we need to find out exactly where they are and what they’re supposed to be doing.”
Under Comstock’s plan, new Metro employees would lose traditional defined-benefit pension plans in lieu of defined contribution 401(k) plans. It would also reduce overtime for union employees and outsource additional services to private companies. All of the changes would come with a $75 million appropriation from the federal government.
Residents had mixed feelings about the loss of jobs when weighed against improved services.
“Metro Access is a travesty and there have been constant concerns about drivers physically and sexually assaulting passengers, so it would be a blessing for an outside contractor to manage it,” Alisha Bolton, a Ward 7 resident whose paraplegic son utilized Metro Access services, told the AFRO. “It would make more sense with the train and bus services to train the current staff than to bring in outsiders who will economically displace these Black workers.”
Comstock’s proposal also seeks to install a five-member Metro Reform Board to replace the current 16-member board of directors, who would have authority to void all current and pending union and supplier contracts.
“Privatization has led to relaxed safety standards around the country and the union firmly believes that the expansion of privatization at Metro is the wrong direction for the system and the tax-paying public.” Jeter and members of Local 689 said in a released statement. “WMATA was founded, in large part, because of the lax standards of private contractors in the 1950s, much like the ones who operate D.C. Circulator and D.C. Streetcar, two systems that have had numerous safety, pay, benefits, and work environment problems in the last two years.”