- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2017

About 30 Metro workers — their hands and shirts stained with fake blood — accused the board of directors and management on Thursday of trying to kill the transit system and its union.

“Stop. Stop what you’re doing with the workers,” said one member of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 at Thursday’s Metro board meeting. “Because without the workers, you do not have a system.”

The demonstration was in response to Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld’s call for keeping the current pension program for retirees and workers but shifting to a 401k-style retirement plan for new hires, who would be required to contribute to the new program.

In his April 19 proposal, Mr. Wiedefeld said the perpetually cash-strapped transit agency faces a $1 billion unfunded pension liability and a $1.8 billion liability for retiree and other post-employment benefits. He said his plan would forestall a future financial crisis, allow competitive bidding between the union and private businesses for new services and permit a change in the arbitration process.

“The union presentation that we heard about the pension fund, I want the record to show that we had written two letters to the trustees to come before my pension subcommittee, and they have fallen upon deaf ears,” said board member Tom Bulger, president of the D.C. lobbying firm Government Relations Inc.

Over the past year, Metro has eliminated 800 jobs and has told workers that they are considered “at will” employees, meaning they can be fired more easily than in years past.

About a dozen workers signed up to speak during the meeting’s public comment period, and one took issue with the two-minute time limit.

“Two minutes? Come on,” he said. “Obviously, you, the board, don’t want to hear from us.”

He spoke for almost double his allotted time, reading excerpts of two news stories about Metro’s failures while defending union workers.

“Pay the workers their due fare,” he said.

Before the public meeting and during the board’s executive session, the union staged a mock funeral, complete with fake tombstones inscribed with “Middle Class Jobs,” “Safety,” “Reliable Service” and “Collective Bargaining Rights.”

“This is what Metro’s doing to the union and to the workers, they’re killing them,” one union member said after the meeting. “The blood is on Metro’s hands the board of directors and management. Everything that happened, the blood is on Metro’s hands.”

Thursday marked the eighth anniversary of the Fort Totten Metro station crash, which killed nine passengers and injured 52 others.

Meanwhile, Mr. Wiedefeld noted that Sunday marks the start of new service hours and a fare increase as the yearlong SafeTrack maintenance program comes to an end. The 40-year-old transit system also will begin its first preventive maintenance inspection program.

The new hours:

Monday-Thursday, 5 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

Friday, 5 a.m. to 1 a.m.

Saturday, 7 a.m. to 1 a.m.

Sunday, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Most Metrorail fares will increase 10 to 25 cents. Metrobus fares will increase 25 cents.

Mr. Wiedefeld also said Metro is prepared for the Fourth of July, but he did not say if the rail system will expand its hours. Fireworks are supposed to start around 9 p.m. on the holiday, while Metro currently is scheduled to close at 11:30 p.m.

He told the board that the credit rating agencies Standard and Poor’s and Fitch recently upgraded Metro to AA-.

Mr. Wiedefeld’s plan calls for a bondable $500 million per year of dedicated capital funding from the regional governments and an additional $150 million annually from the federal government. Metro is the only major public transportation system in the U.S. without a dedicated source of funding.

Ten Maryland Democrats proposed on Monday that Maryland, Virginia and the District split the amount equally, which would allow each jurisdiction to raise its portion — $170 million — of Metro funding by its own methods.

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