Arthur Wright has been an operator with Alexandria’s DASH bus system for 19 years, and still has to work overtime make ends meet. Like his coworkers, he has no penchant and a family that he struggles to support under mounting bills. Surrounded by dozens of his brothers and sisters from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, Wright asked the Alexandria City Council for a raise.
“It’s not easy operating that bus, and you get off that bus at the end of the day and you realize you don’t have enough money,” Wright told council at its legislative meeting on Saturday, April 13. “I have to work extra days just to pay my rent because of the cost of living in this town, and it wears out on you. My wife is sick and I’m tired of working all these hours, but if we had decent wages it wouldn’t matter then because we’d be able to maintain that.”
DASH is currently negotiating a new contract with ATU Local 689, and their drivers are some of the lowest paid in the region. The current starting salary for a DASH employee is $17 per hour; the average salary is $21.79 per hour and the top pay is $29 per hour. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority top salary is $32.81 and starting pay is $19.69.
DASH CEO Josh Baker agrees that his employees need a raise, and said that the the collective bargaining agreement process could extend past council’s approval of the city’s annual budget on May 1. He said that there will be five meetings between now and then, and is hopeful that the union and the transit system can come to an agreement.
“We agree that we are behind in compensation and are committed to negotiating in good faith to arrive at a contract which is agreeable to all parties involved,” Baker said. “We are in the process of working through the collective bargaining process as required by law and have been pleased with progress so far, we look forward to sitting down next week to continue discussions.”
Alexandria City Manager Mark Jinks said that the process is complicated and takes time.
“In this situation you’ll see this kind of back and forth while the negotiations are going on,” Jinks said. “But we will have a collective bargaining agreement.”