Wednesday, December 23, 2020
Washington Metro and the Dismal Side of Privatization
The Washington Post ran a story November 13, 2019 about an area bus strike, which perfectly and transparently illustrates the dismal side of privatization. [Justin George and Luz Lazo, “Bus Strike in N. Va. Poised to Spread”] It turns out a French company named Transdev, received privatization contracts from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, usually referred to as Metro, to run a bus garage and a second one to Fairfax County, Virginia to operate its Fairfax Connector bus service.
Wednesday, the day the story ran, was the 20th day of a strike of 120 garage workers at the Cinder Bed Road garage. Strikers are former Metrobus employees and members of the Amalgamated Transit Workers Union local 689 on strike in protest of wage and benefit cuts by Transdev. The Fairfax Connector bus drivers and members of Amalgamated Transit Workers local 1764 voted to authorize a strike against Transdev with a likely strike date of November 30, the date the current contract expires. The strike of garage workers has shut down 15 routes in Northern Virginia affecting 8,500 riders. A strike at the Fairfax Connector would leave 30,000 without service.
All are unhappy with Transdev pay scales set below Metro employees and with cuts in health care and benefits. Transdev defends their pay as competitive because they are able to fill their positions, but not because the pay is the same. They have further issued the usual company boilerplate claiming to be negotiating in “good faith.”
The Metro director in Fairfax encourages both sides to reach agreement, but sits on the sidelines refusing to be involved. A metro spokesman Dan Stessel excused any responsibility Metro might have telling the Washington Post “This is a labor dispute between the union and Transdev, not Metro, so while we are concerned about the impact the strike has had on our customers, we are not a party to the negotiations and are limited in the role we can play as an outside party.” This transparent and disgusting evasion reflects their failure to write and enforce protections into the contract. The Metro contract calls for Transdev to have a plant to operate the routes during strikes, which they have not done.
Then we learn Metro elected to outsource bus operations to Transdev for $89 million that saves them $15 million over five years by not paying Metro pensions and benefits. They actually admit the savings are from cuts to their workforce. Striking employees complain there is no annual pay scale and they have never had a raise. Health benefits have a $6,000 deductible.
Transdev can expect to pay the same amount for equipment and fuel as Metro. As well a privatization contract adds the cost of a second bureaucracy. Any savings in a privatization contract comes from cutting pay and benefits. Metro director Paul Weidefeld defended privatization: “And there’s lots of examples of things that are run by the private sector that are good. Doesn’t mean its always good.” He did not offer examples, but Metro would not be an example of “things that are good.”
Monday, December 14, 2020
Andy Puzder, Secretary of Labor drop out and former chief executive of CKE Restaurants, does not like the enhanced unemployed benefits. In a Washington Post op-ed piece [Unemployment benefits are causing a worker shortage” WP June 3, 2020] he claims the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program creates a shortage of labor because benefits are too high.
cites the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) June Jobs Report
that 32 percent of all owners reported job openings they could not fill. NFIB’s
chief economist, William C. Dunkelberg, complains “generous unemployment
benefits are making it harder for some firms to recall workers and fill open
positions.” Puzder goes on to tell us “Virtually anyone in business will tell
you that this $600 per week bonus is discouraging work.” He concludes “It isn’t
complicated. If you pay people more to stay home than to work, fewer people
How true, but irrelevant because his comments only tell us what we already know: millions worked for less than $600 a week before the pandemic and people like Puzder earned millions exploiting them. He expects public policy to be a priority for corporate America and ignores the dangers of the pandemic entirely; it interferes with his privileges. Since $600 a week is $15 an hour for full time work, or $30,000 a year, he demands that public policy must continue to promote salaries so low they convert people into the working poor.