ART Bus operators strike

For the second straight day, dozens of Arlington County bus drivers went on strike Tuesday. The driver’s union alleges that a systematic violation of labor practices led to the partial strike that caused hour-long delays.

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The unions says bus operators were sexually harassed and prevented from taking bathroom breaks. 

A letter released by the union representing Arlington Transit bus operators shows that Monday's sick-out was the culmination of a powder keg ignited by one spark.

“They treat me like a slave. That's why I'm standing here for my rights with all my coworkers,” said bus driver Solomon Araya. The company’s co-owner denied the charges.

On Tuesday, buses were delayed and the 61b route was completely out of service.

Rider Lynell Brady eventually walked to work. “We waited at the bus stop and no buses arrived,” Brady said. “The walking, not being prepared for it, that was awful.”

The drivers' union, ASCME local 3001, claims that Forsythe Transportation, the Alaska-based contractor charged with running the county's buses, repeatedly ignored complaints that Forsythe management sexually harassed ART workers.

When union leader Patricia Blowe was sent home Thursday night, then fired Friday — though Forsythe claims that she was merely suspended pending an investigation — the union decided to act. It wasn't a wage dispute, as was incorrectly reported. It was, the union alleges, a systematic violation of labor practices that led to the partial strike.

In addition to the firing, the union protested Forsythe's habit of changing driver schedules and unfair pay. But the most damning charge levied against Forsythe was that drivers were denied the right to use the bathroom. In a letter distributed by the union, one driver was allegedly told to pee in a cup rather than leave his bus:

 

ART Bus strike letter

Photo: deafinthecity/Twitter


Company co-owner Bill Forsythe denies the allegations, and says drivers have yet to provide evidence of their claims.

“In terms of the dignity issues, there's two sides to that story, too. Of course we allowed employees to take restroom breaks. It's necessary, it's mandatory. We're not ogres,” Forsythe said.

Stephen Del Giudice, Arlington County Transit Bureau Chief, told TBD that 23 drivers were on strike. These drivers were a mix of union and non-union workers. Forsythe gave them an ultimatum: Show up by noon, or be fired.  Most of them were fired, but some were permitted to return to work this morning.

They were still striking Tuesday, causing systemwide delays. The company is planning on  filling gaps in service by tapping its 30 part-time drivers (50 drivers are full time). More full-time drivers may be replaced later in the week to replace any fired workers.

Statement from Arlington County Regarding ART Bus Service on June 15:

On behalf of the Arlington County Board, Chairman Christopher Zimmerman issued the following statement: Since Monday a dispute between the management of Forsythe Transportation, with whom Arlington contracts to operate the County’s ART bus service, and bus drivers represented by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 3001, has resulted in service disruptions and a significant reduction of service on many ART routes. This situation is simply unacceptable.

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