LEESBURG, Va. (DC News Now) — The majority of buses in Loudoun County are not running for the second day in a row as Loudoun transit workers continued a strike for a better contract.
“What do we want? Contracts. When do we want it? Now,” union members chanted on Thursday morning.
More than 100 Loudoun County Transit workers are making it known they want better wages and more importantly they say, better benefits.
“For us, it’s about the health care. It’s about the 401(k). And the majority of us are over 40 years old,” said shop steward Sandra Vigil.
Keolis has been contracted by the county to operate Loudoun County Transit since April 2021.
“When this company took over, they slashed employees who had paid and took their benefits. And you probably wouldn’t believe it, but they did this in the middle of a pandemic,” said Raymond Jackson, president of Amalgamated Transit Unit (ATU) Local 689.
Jackson says they’ve been negotiating “for the last six months. We’ll put a proposal on the table and the company will tell us ‘we can’t meet that.’ So we’ll go back, we’ll change our proposal and put something different on and the entire time we’ve been negotiating against ourselves.”
The union met with Keolis Wednesday and Thursday.
“When we came to the table, first thing they said was, this is the last and final offer. That didn’t sit well because a last and final means there is no more negotiation,” Vigil said.
The union says Keolis offered members $2,000 to accept a contract by February 28 but the workers say the terms still aren’t fair.
“Why would we do that? Part of their contract says that they can change our benefits at any time that they want,” Vigil said.
Vigil is a commuter bus driver to D.C., Crystal City and the Pentagon.
“We love getting out to their work, bringing them safely back. That’s something we take pride in and the fact that this company is not helping us get that done is upsetting to us,” Vigil said.
According to Keolis, the company previously increased wages by between 15 and 30 percent as recently as June 2022.
The company says the benefits and wages offered are comparable to or exceed, peer networks and agencies.
“If you ask the majority of workers here, none of them live in this county,” Jackson said. “They had to move because they couldn’t afford to live here.”
Keolis said there was no commuter service to D.C. on Wednesday, and bus routes may operate with delay, prioritizing paratransit services.
In a statement, the company said, “Keolis is committed to providing safe and reliable service for our passengers who rely on transit. We look forward to finalizing a contract that supports the wellbeing of our employees and their families with comprehensive benefits and competitive wages.”
Loudoun County Deputy Public Affairs and Communications officer Mary Frances Forcier said “The matter is an issue that must be resolved between the members and Keolis. Loudoun County Government is not involved in labor negotiations and therefore we cannot comment on that issue.
“Naturally, we are hopeful that Keolis and its members and complete negotiations soon so that full transit services can be restored in Loudoun County as soon as possible. In the meantime, we are encouraging our riders to plan for any impacts that a continued disruption in bus services may have on their travels throughout the county. Riders can stay informed about any changes to the county’s bus services by regularly checking loudoun.gov/buschanges. Riders may also subscribe to bus rider alerts at loudoun.gov/busbiz.”