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Monday, December 5, 2016

Bus drivers urge Fairfax County board to act on promised pension

A Fairfax Connector bus on Columbia Pike in Annandale. 
The union that represents more than 500 Fairfax Connector bus drivers, mechanics, and other workers is  presenting a petition to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Dec. 6 demanding action on a failed promised to provide a pension plan.

Fairfax County contracts with MV Transportation, a private multinational corporation based in Dallas, to operate the Fairfax Connector bus system.

Officials with Local 1764 of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) charge MV Transportation had promised to provide a pension system to Fairfax Connector workers the last time their contract was approved but never followed through. The union members had agreed to forfeit a 2 percent pay raise in 2012 to cover the cost.

MV pocketed the money but never set up a pension plan. At the same time, MV renegotiated its contract with Fairfax County for more money.

“We are the only county workers who will devote their lives to Fairfax and walk away with nothing to retire on,” said Sesil Rubain, ATU Local 1764 trustee.

The union is urging Board Chair Sharon Bulova and the other supervisors to “stop looking the other way and start holding their out-of-control contractor accountable.”

Local 1764’s contract with MV Transportation expired Nov. 30. The union refused to agree to extend the contract, arguing that doing so “would send the message that MV was being reasonable about reaching a settlement, which it is not.”

While the union had initially hoped for a pension plan, it now feels a 401(k) plan, with the company and employees contributing to a retirement plan, would be more realistic.

The union would also like to see changes in working conditions, an ATU official says. Bus drivers often feel faint and dizzy – causing safety issues – and some have had to be hospitalized as a result of diesel fumes getting inside the buses.

In another issue, the union feels bus drivers aren’t being treated equitably. Every Fairfax Connector bus has a camera that records bus drivers’ actions, and the union charges the rules are more strictly enforced against some drivers than others.

The union is not demanding a big wage increase but would like to see wage parity across the system. New drivers who work at the Herndon Division, for example, earn $16.16 an hour after a training period, while the starting pay for drivers at the Huntington Division is about $19 an hour.

According to an ATU official, when the union has written letters to Bulova about the pension issue, they were ignored or were told that the BoS doesn’t get involved in collective bargaining. “We say, the contractor works for you. We’re just asking them to take accountability,” he says.

About 550 of the 600 Fairfax Connector employees are in the union. Fairfax Connector has 85 routes, covering nearly 200 square miles and serves about 30,000 riders a day.

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