Despite DC’s economic boom and DC’s recovery from the recession, studies show that Black unemployment in DC remains stubbornly high at 19.5%. In high unemployment zones of the District, like many neighborhoods east of the river and among youth and returning citizens, the rates can be even higher. In addition to high unemployment, the wages of DC’s lowest income workers have been stagnant or falling. WIN and Metro IAF organizers in DC are aggressively organizing to make unemployment, wages and benefits central issues in the District over the coming years.
“The unemployment rate for black DC residents is more than 5.5 times that of whites . . . It’s also higher than the national black unemployment rate at 19.5%”
Anchor Institutions Strategy
In 2017 WIN launched a new strategy aimed at getting DC employers in key sectors to make hiring commitments of unemployed people especially focusing on communities with the highest unemployment rates: Returning Citizens and Young People. In 2017 WIN initiated a series of relational meetings and house meetings to deepen our base in the heavily segregated, African American area of the city east of the river where living wage jobs is a central issues. At a 700-person action in July 2017 with Mayor Muriel Bowser the front rows of church were filled with over 200 leaders from wards 7 and 8 including 50 returning citizens.
The DC Water Jobs Campaign
Since 2013 WIN has been organizing to connect the “Dead Zones” of the Chesapeake Bay to the “DEAD ZONES” of unemployment in many DC neighborhoods.
In 2013 WIN began a campaign pressing for DC Water to hire more DC residents, especially given that DC residents were being asked to invest $2.7 billion in the Clean Rivers Project. The project was designed to clean up stormwater runoff as a result of an EPA mandate. In 2014, DC Water signed an agreement including a 51% local hire, contribution of $1.25 million to open job training programs in DC, and the creation of a national certification for Green Infrastructure work. In 2017, DC Water Works hired 51 (60%) DC residents, this is up from 11% district residents in FY 2013. Also in 2017 the first two classes produced 16 DC residents who are certified in Green Infrastructure.
“There has never been more of a focus on jobs at DC Water ever in its history and it is a result of WIN’s pressure.”
Increasing Circulator Driver Wages
Since the DC Circulator’s inception ten years ago, DDOT has contracted out is daily operations to First Transit, a private multinational company. For ten years First Transit workers have faced substandard pay and benefits. Making around $8.22 per hour less than MetroBus operators while doing comparable work. As a result, it was extremely difficult for them to afford to live in the District where they were employed. In addition, an audit revealed that First Transit had blatantly ignored the DC Paid Sick Leave Act. First Transit even forced workers to violate District safety standards by taking out buses that did not pass pre-trip safety inspections.
Metro IAF Organizer Amy Vruno and key WIN leaders entered into an alliance with ATU Local 1764 Circulator workers to figure out a strategy to get the DC Mayor and Council to take some responsibility for the privatized workers that the DC government was paying. WIN leaders joined with union workers in multiple meetings with Councilmembers and Mayor Bowser to press for action. The Campaign led to a new 3-year contract increasing maximum wages from $23 to $31 per hour ad tripling First Transit’s contributions to employee 401(k) plans. The contract also included language that will ensure drivers don’t have to operate buses that do not meet safety standards.
Keeping WMATA Public
WIN is partnering with sister-IAF affiliates in Virginia and Maryland, and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 689 to protect the public interest in Washington area’s public transit system. WMATA will need a significant funding increase and a dedicated funding source it can rely on in order to ensure rack repairs are completed, worker pay and benefits are sustained, and service in low income communities is not decreased. In exchange for additional public financing, the position of WIN and its allies is that WMATA must eliminate hiring barriers and increase the employment of returning citizens, youth, and residents in high unemployment areas in DC. In July of 2016 ATU Local 689 and Metro IAF held a 600-person action with WMATA Board Chair Jack Evans launching our position. In the coming year, Metro IAF and the ATU will be a driving force pressing for smart public infrastructure investment tied to living wage jobs.