Transit Union Threatens Strike in Battle with New County Contractor

The union that represents Loudoun transit workers is fighting a new district entrepreneur to keep the services going.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 has argued with Keolis North America, the winner of a five-year contract for $ 101 million to operate Loudoun’s transit services, which merged two contracts into one to operate commuter and commuter buses.

And while workers don’t see wage cuts from the previous contract, the union says some of their services have eroded and the company is refusing to meet them.

Amalgamated Transit Union representative John Ertl said the concerns were higher health insurance premiums, lower health coverage, the taking away of a week’s vacation from some of the oldest employees, the downgrading of flextime and perhaps the most symbolic removal of Labor Day – a day that the American Labor Movement – as a paid holiday.

He said the people who run the buses in Loudoun just want to hold on to what they already had.

“They first met with us and suggested accepting the CBA, but only if we agreed on steep concessions,” Ertl wrote by email. “We refused these requests for concessions and they broke off the discussions and decided not to recognize the union at all. I had calls with Arturo Ross, their lawyer, and the company threatened that they would do so if we didn’t accept their concession proposals. What they did was illegal and that is why we brought charges with the NLRB. “

The union has filed a number of complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, ranging from alleged retaliation for union activities, denial of the agreement in good faith, to denial of union access to the facility.

Union members also voted to authorize a strike even before Keolis officially took the strike on April 1, although there are no immediate plans to do so. Ertl said, “We didn’t get this type of treatment anywhere.”

The shop is also dealing with an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. Sandra Vigil, a former 15-year-old school bus driver before joining Loudoun Transit six years ago to drive a shuttle bus, said about 10 people are currently sick – including herself and her family. And she said some of the improved cleaning work under the previous contractor only resumed under Keolis this week.

Vigil said she was part of getting the union on the Loudoun shuttles in 2018 after being exposed to hostile working conditions. All along, she also had a son in and out of the hospital. But eventually, she said, the workers and the union achieved a productive working relationship with the contractor.

Things changed when Keolis arrived.

“It’s not about who has more power, it has nothing to do with it,” said Vigil. “As I keep telling you, we don’t ask about the moon and the stars, you know? We ask what is fair and what we can afford for good health care. We want to be able to get our hours so we can make money and pay our bills. “

“Some of these people have been working here for 20 years,” Ertl said in a phone call. “It’s just a terrible way of treating people. I mean, imagine if you were such a shy employer that you antagonize your people until they would vote to approve a strike before they even start. “

He also warned that it will be difficult to replace commercial driver license holders who are leaving the company with a nationwide shortage of CDL holders.

“No less than 20 of our members have already jumped the ship and set off for the Fairfax Connector,” said Ertl. There the union has a stronger consensus. “Keolis, you are dismantling the transit system here as we know it, and we are losing a lot of long-term, skilled workforce.”

“I had to go through a lot of tests, a lot of training to do what I’m doing,” said Vigil. “My thing is, when we’re doing something that we need a license to do, something that requires us to have responsibilities on the road, the safety of the people – their lives – in our hands and you, rather than trying to do that pay away what’s fair, that’s not right. “

Keolis’ proposal to the county, the transition plan and the agreement with the county promised a rosier transition.

“Our goal is to offer plans that are comparable to or better than those currently available for employees,” wrote Keolis in his proposal to the county.

“Throughout the recruitment process, Keolis will maintain close communication and coordination with the county, the outgoing contractor and union representatives,” the company’s transition plan states.

“[T]The contractor uses a pay scale that offers at least the same starting wage and incremental increases and offers at least the same benefits that the current contractor offers to all operators, supervisors, dispatchers, cleaners and maintenance personnel. ”Reads the executed service agreement signed on January 29, 2021 by Aline Frantzen, President and CEO of KeolisTransit America.

The company also issued a letter of offer to at least some employees of the previous contractor who recognized a union collective agreement, and then canceled it. A second letter of offer states: “Your employment at KTA is free and can be terminated at any time with or without a reason and with or without notice.”

Part of the conflict seems to stem from the combination of the two contracts – the previous commuter bus contract was unionized but the local bus contract was not. In a letter on behalf of Keolis from Miami attorney Arturo Ross of Akerman LLP in response to the union’s request for recognition, it said that the company “cannot accurately predict the percentage of former Transdev and former MV Transportation employees. Employee is [the two former contractors] will be on the first day. “It is said that the company does not recognize the union, but the company recognizes the union if the majority of the workers are union members after hiring.

Keolis was contacted to comment on this article and issued a prepared statement attributed to Frantzen.

“Since this workforce brings together an unrepresented and represented team, the employees must vote to see if they want to continue their union representation,” it says. “Keolis welcomes this process and supports the final decision of the employees after this vote.”

If there is a union formation vote, the statement promises: “Keolis will assist Loudoun County workers if they vote to unionize and we will negotiate a good faith collective agreement with the unionized workers on a variety of matters, including the benefits that are currently at stake. “

“Keolissees our workforce as our most valuable asset and we will continue to support all employees while providing a safe, clean and reliable transit service to the Loudoun community for whom we are privileged,” the statement added.

The six Democratic District regulators signed a letter to Keolis North America’s President and CEO, Clément Michel, urging Keolis to recognize the collective agreement that existed before the company was acquired and which will not expire until December 31st points out that the district government is currently drafting an ordinance to allow collective bargaining for public employees.

“We will monitor this situation and trust that you are doing the right thing to ensure that the rights of Loudoun County officials as workers are honored and respected,” the letter concludes.

Also letters to the company from Del. Kathleen J. Murphy (D-34), Del. Ibraheem S. Samirah (D-86) and Sen. Jennifer B. Boysko (D-33) express concern.

“We have to pull teeth to do just some of the most basic things,” said Ertl. “This company really doesn’t care about their employees and they have made it very clear that they will cut costs at our expense.”

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