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They killed themselves with greed: How a strike stopped privatization in DC’s Metro

By Ray Valentine - Organizing Work, December 29, 2019

Ray Valentine describes how a scheme to cut labor costs in the DC-area transit system through privatization backfired when workers at the private subcontractor went on strike.

On October 24, 120 bus operators, mechanics, and other workers represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 walked off the job at the Cinder Bed Road MetroBus garage in Lorton, Virginia, launching the first strike to hit the Washington, DC metro area’s mass transit system in more than 40 years. The strike was unplanned and small — small enough that it won’t show up in the federal government’s tally of work stoppages — and after more than two months, workers are still out with no settlement in sight. But even though the issues that provoked the dispute have not been resolved, the fight has led to major changes that have strengthened the position of workers throughout the transit system.

The buses out of Cinder Bed drive routes that are part of the Washington Metro system and the workers wear Metro uniforms, but the garage is operated by Transdev, a French multinational. The garage was outsourced as part of a long-term plan by Metro management to cut costs by contracting out as many services as possible in order to drive down labor costs. The strike began as a fairly straightforward economic conflict over wages and benefits, and the union’s ambitions going into it were modest. But on December 13, the union and Metro reached a deal that would halt further privatization and even bring some services that have already been outsourced back in-house. 

The result is a rare win for labor, but it’s not entirely clear how it happened, even to the people who won it.

Ten Reasons Why Transit Privatization is Bad for the District:

By staff - ATU Local 689, May 30, 2017

1. Privatization does not guarantee savings.  Proponents of privatizing transit often make lofty claims about savings through private sector efficiencies. But frequently these claims couldn’t be farther from the truth. Public agencies are often more efficient because no profit margin gets siphoned off to shareholders.

• In Phoenix, Veolia demanded an additional $27.5 million on top of its existing $386 million contract. Veolia threatened to leave on short notice during contract negotiations if the city did not meet its demands. 1

• Officials canceled a management contract with First Transit in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The public agency experienced a cost savings by managing the system in-house.

• Veolia was dropped after 3 years by Chatham Area Transit (CAT) in Savannah, GA after the CAT chairman concluded that the private operator “was becoming too expensive.”

2. Service issues may rise: any savings often come from cutbacks.

Contractor claims about service should be taken with a grain of salt. Up-front savings are often coupled with cutbacks, hurting the most vulnerable users like the disabled and children.

• In San Diego, First Transit promised $10 million in annual savings by taking over the North County Transit District. Modest cost declines were primarily due to service cutbacks. First Transit operated 14,000 fewer service hours while other costs shot up by $1.4 million primarily due to administrative fees. 

• Between 2008 and 2010, MV Transportation was fined 295 times for bad service in the city of Fairfield, CA, which had turned to the private operator as a solution to budget shortfalls. Officials concluded that the private operator “exhibited mostly negative trends in all areas” related to performance and efficiency.

• In Nassau County, NY Veolia slashed service to close a $7.3 million budget gap. More than 30 routes saw cutbacks, in all 60% of the system experienced service declines. 

• After 19 years of privatized service in the Toledo, OH area, paratransit riders complaints

were so numerous that the agency fired First Transit. 

IWW blockades Street in front of Whole Foods Demanding Reinstatement for Worker

By DC Direct Action News - It's Going Down, January 14, 2017

Julia Flores is a 15 year employee of the P St Whole Foods who was fired from her job for organizing workers and informing them about such laws as the minimum wage. On the 13th of January, the IWW escalated the campaign demanding her job back by blocking the streets in front of another Whole Foods in Foggy Bottom.

Whole Foods is trying to claim that Julia stole an item worth less than $10 after working there for 15 years. Nobody is believing this spurious claim, but this is how Whole Foods is attempting to stave off legal proceedings for violating labor laws. Firing workers for attempting to organize a union is illegal but a common practice, employers always make up some other reason for firing and dare workers to prove otherwise in court.

In addition to the legal proceedings, the IWW is holding Whole Foods accountable to the public with actions like the Jan 13 street blockade and picket that educate the public, drive away business, and create public relations problems with the surrounding neighborhood. There is a strong probability that Whole Foods will be hearing from other businesses in the area whose customers had trouble getting to them.

Activists from DC Stampede (an animal rights group) joined the IWW in this protest as a solidarity matter. Whole Foods has come to the attention of DC Stampede and Direct Action Everywhere (XDXE) in the past for ripping off their customers with meat alleged to be “cruelty-free” that was proven by a video to be from ordinary factory farms. Still earlier, the P st Whole Foods (the one that fired Juilia) played a role in the gentrification of Shaw. They were the first grocery store in that area to keep dumpsters locked up and use compactors. They absolutely refused to give a single scrap of discarded food to homeless service organizations in that time period (circa 2007). Finally. anarchists raided the P st Whole Foods during the October Rebellion (fall 2007 IMF protests), expropriated a large amount of food, and served it to the needy. In short, Whole Foods should be considered a repeat offender, a “frequent flier” for social justice campaigns.

DC IWW Resolution on Standing Rock

Official Statement by the DC IWW General Membership Branch - November 19, 2016

The DC General Membership Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World wish to express our solidarity with the water protectors at Standing Rock who are resisting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on their tribal lands. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and those fighting alongside them, are on the front lines of environmental struggle in North America, standing against corporate power and greed, against government collusion with private interests, and above all against the planet-killing depredations of the industrial capitalist system.

To the water protectors at Standing Rock, we say the following: Your struggle, to defend your own communities, health, dignity, and livelihoods, is a clear lesson to all who love freedom and justice: there is not, and must not be, any separation between fighting for Mother Earth and fighting for our lives. Protecting the Earth from destruction is an act of collective self-defense. The Sioux phrase, “Mitakuye Oyasin” -- “All Are Related” -- is similar to the old IWW slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all,” reminding the working class of its common identity. By fighting the Dakota Access pipeline, the water protectors-our fellow workers- at Standing Rock protect not only themselves but millions of fellow workers who could potentially be impacted by the Dakota Access Pipeline.

By taking action to defend your water and land, you have struck powerful blows against the corporate action exploitation of the Earth. Your struggle is supported and appreciated. We encourage all groups and all peoples concerned with the exploitation of our Earth for profit to support the water protectors at Standing Rock.

In Harmony with the Earth! Mni Wiconi! Water Is Life!

Your Next Bike Share Ride May Be Powered By Union Labor

By Amien Essef - In These Times, November 11, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Only a decade ago, bike share programs were considered European. But just as the concept takes off in urban areas around the US, the workers who make it possible are unionizing.

After New York City workers organized the first ever bike share union in the US in September, three other cities—Washington, D.C., Boston, and most recently Chicago—have made significant progress on their own bike share worker organizing campaigns. A majority of workers in all three cities signed union authorization cards this fall; D.C. workers are negotiating a union election date while Boston and Chicago workers will vote whether or not to unionize within the next month.

The roughly 280 bike share workers in these four cities—who, despite the bike share services’ varying names, all work under the same owner, Alta Bicycle Share, which was recently bought by the real estate company REQX—may all soon be represented by the Transport Workers Union. TWU represents workers in more traditional public transit sectors like bus drivers and airline workers, but Local 100 now aims to lead a national campaign to organize rentable city bicycles like Citi Bike in New York and Divvy in Chicago.

“If it’s on wheels,” says TWU Local 100 director of education Nicholas Bedell, “we want to organize it.”

But the union didn’t actually launch the national campaign. According to workers, the headlines generated by a successful union drive in New York, where Local 100 is based, prompted workers in D.C., Boston and Chicago to contact TWU on their own accord.

The Fine Print I:

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The Fine Print II:

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