Yesterday a disturbing report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was released on the July 29, 2016 Metro Rail derailment that highlighted serious problems in Metro’s safety culture. In response, one-term Congresswoman Barbara Comstock (VA-10) took the opportunity to ignore the safety issues in the report and attack Metro’s track workers with all-out lies and fabricated statements with no supporting data. It is clear that Comstock is willing to say anything to get the votes of her right-wing Donald Trump-supporting constituents in this campaign season, even if it means deceiving the constituency with inaccurate statements.
“Fix it! Fund It! Now!” was the rallying call of more than 700 ATU Local 689 members and their allies in the standing room only rally at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation on Saturday, July 30. The July 29th shut down of Metrorail’s Orange and Silver Lines dramatically underlined the need for dedicated funding that was the focus of Saturday's already-planned rally organized by ATU Local 689.
“They talk about us in a bad light, and everyone I know in the track department feels that it’s not fair to us,” said Marlow Franklin, a Metro worker and Local 689 member. “We would like for the politicians and WMATA to appreciate what we’re doing.”
It was stories like those of Franklin that made the case for dedicated funding, a priority that Local 689 is calling on the region’s leaders to adopt in their unified agenda.
The unified agenda is the culmination of months of engagement of more than 2,000 members in face to face “listening sessions” to learn of ways to improve Metro from the membership. Coming out of those meetings, the union is now calling on Metro to meet five major benchmarks that include securing dedicated funding for the system, putting the safety of workers and riders before revenue, investment in training Metro’s workforce, protection of worker pensions, and a stop to attempted privatization of services.
“If buses are crowded, we make it work,” said Local 689 President Jackie Jeter. “If we don’t have the right tools and the right parts, we make it work. If we don’t have enough manpower, we make it work.”
There were more than two dozen elected officials and allied organizations present, including WMATA Board Chair Jack Evans. Evans says he’s been meeting with members of the region’s Congressional Delegation to try to get them on board, though getting congress to increase funding may be an uphill battle.
Advocates for dedicated funding are hopeful regional policymakers will approve a tax plan to support the system, but it hasn’t been politically viable in the past. Already this year, leaders in the Virginia General Assembly, which is controlled by Republicans, said the idea was a non-starter. However, Evans says the need for dedicated funding is urgent and getting the funding is finally feasible now that Metro is quite literally starting to fall apart. The hope is Maryland, D.C. and Virginia are listening more closely to Metro’s financial woes and will pitch in to keep the trains running.
"We can fix Metro but we can only fix it together," said Evans. "Workers, riders, and the entire region."
WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld was confirmed, but did not attend Saturday’s rally, citing the Orange and Silver Line derailment.