“Nobody at the Circulator can afford to buy a house in the District. . . . I rent, and I can barely afford rent.”- First Transit employee to Washington Post, 2016
“We need to improve the employee retention…I certainly don’t want to be a place that is just a training ground….” – DDOT Director to Washington Post, 2016
For years, D.C. Circulator operators worked as second class transit employees in the nation’s capital. On average, they were earning $8 less per hour than their counterparts at the publicly-operated Metrobus, despite doing the same job on the same streets. They were being denied sick leave in violation of D.C.’s local paid sick leave laws.
In 2016, after an intense community and political organizing effort by their union, ATU Local 1764, they won a breakthrough collective bargaining agreement that established wage parity with Metrobus workers. First Transit had threatened union activists with discipline and termination and targeted leaders in the garage for retaliation, even attempting to fire the chief shop steward just months after the contract was settled. But finally, they were paid an hourly wage that mirrored their public sector counterparts.
In a country without universal healthcare or adequate Social Security, however, hourly pay is not the only compensation working families need to survive. Transit workers, like anyone else, need affordable healthcare and a retirement plan that will support them when they can no longer do the grueling work of operating a bus. That is especially true in Washington, D.C., one of the most expensive jurisdictions in America.
Today, Circulator operators are hoping to improve their prospects by becoming public employees, where they could be part of a much larger pool of participants in public health and retirement plans. Rather than play fiscal chicken with a private contractor, DDOT can hire Circulator workers as public employees. They can negotiate with their union to find plans that save the city money that would have gone into private hands and ensure working families in the District have a pathway to the middle class.