Striking bus workers get hearing at Virginia King Day parade

By Arrin Hawkins
February 6, 2023

LEESBURG, Va. — Striking Loudoun County bus operators, mechanics and other members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 marched in the annual Martin Luther King parade here Jan. 16. They formed part of a labor contingent that included the Northern Virginia AFL-CIO and members of Service Employees International Union Virginia Local 512. Some 130 transit workers walked out Jan. 11, after voting 96% to authorize a strike. 

Grueling split-shift schedules and lack of time to spend with families are some of the issues strikers face. “I work from 3 a.m. to 9 a.m. and then 4:45 p.m. to 8:35 p.m.,” bus operator Matewas Amado told the Militant. “Fuel prices are expensive so it’s not worth driving back home in between shifts, that makes it a 17-hour day, five days a week. When I leave in the morning my kids are asleep and when I come back home they are asleep. I never see my family.” 

Transit workers are also striking against a two-tier wage system. Bernitta Willis, a commuter bus driver, said she makes $4-an-hour more than the fixed-route drivers. “We should all make the same pay,” she said. 

Workers at the parade spoke about their experiences from past transit strikes in the region. James Tyger, who works at the paratransit Metro Access, came from Charles County, Maryland, to join the contingent. During a 2019 strike by transit workers at the Cinder Bed Road depot in Lorton, Tyger brought logs to keep the fire barrels burning on the picket line. “If it wasn’t for them, Metro Access workers wouldn’t had made gains. When we all come together, we are very powerful,” he said.

Troy Barnes, an organizer with the union, explained that bosses failed to induce workers to accept their proposed contract with a $2,000 signing bonus. “It didn’t work with us,” he said, noting the company continues to cut retirement and health care benefits. The recent company proposal cuts the guaranteed weekly hours from 38 to zero.

Keolis took over the Loudoun County bus contract in April 2021. Bosses refused to recognize the union and forced workers to hold another union recertification election. Transit workers in the county voted 95% to keep their union.

“Keolis’ contract offer was insulting and shameful,” ATU Local 689 President Raymond Jackson told the media. “This company continues to treat our members with disrespect and disdain and continues to bargain in bad faith.”

Pickets continue outside Keolis’ offices from 3 a.m. to 4 p.m. Messages of support can be sent to ATU Local 689 at 2701 Whitney Place, Forestville, MD 20747. Email: