On the Picket Line

Bus drivers strike in Virginia for higher wages, safety on the job

By Stanley Votto
March 11, 2024

FAIRFAX, Va. — Over 600 bus drivers and mechanics, members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, went on strike here Feb. 22 against Transdev, a contractor for Fairfax Connector bus company.

The strikers have been fighting for a new contract since last October. Their demands include retirement security, more sick leave, higher wages and increased safety protection on the job.

“We start at 3:15 a.m. and the last bus goes out at 12:15 the next day. We have six to seven hours in between the morning and night shift we aren’t paid for,” Wills Burke, an operator for 11 years and a shop steward, told the Militant.

“Inflation is a big part of why we’re fighting,” operator Marcella Johnson said. “My rent has been raised twice but we still haven’t had a raise. I have to work a part-time job on the weekend and now I’m thinking about a third job or a roommate. I’m supposed to be able to have a life, I’ve heard a rumor that’s still a thing.”

Several drivers mentioned how they felt their strike was part of all the other labor fights in the U.S. over the past year. “We were inspired by fights by transit workers in San Francisco, New York and Boston, who fought for better compensation because of the mental health crisis they face on the job and won,” 40-year driver Tony Blue said.

Mark Philhower, a Metro mechanic who was part of the 84-day strike of ATU Local 689 drivers in 2018-2019, came to show solidarity. “The value of unions is becoming clearer as everywhere they try to cut wages and fire people unjustly.”

Troy Barnes, organizer for ATU Local 689 and a Metro employee for 27 years, said Transdev was awarded a lucrative contract by Fairfax County, but has refused to raise wages or improve conditions for workers. “The company said, ‘We’re here to make profits. The workers were making peanuts before, they can keep making peanuts.’”

The strikers welcome visits to their picket lines. Contributions to the ATU 689 Strike Fund can be sent to 2701 Whitney Place, Forestville MD 20747, messages of support to kbullock@atulocal689.org.