Despite DC’s apparent economic boom and recovery from the recession, studies show that black unemployment in DC remains stubbornly high at 19.5% (A vision for an Equitable DC Report, Urban Institute, 2016). In High unemployment zones of the District, like any 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 and wages a central issues in the District over the coming years.
Green City, Green Jobs
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.
Parts of Washington DC use a combined sewer system, where a single underground pipe carries both stormwater and sewage to Blue Plains for treatment. When there are heavy rains, these pipes over ow, causing ooding and sewer back-ups in low-lying areas of the city and each year sending millions of gallons of untreated sewage into the Anacostia, Rock Creek, and Potomac Rivers. After the EPA cracked down on DC in 2005, DC Water reached a legal agreement with the EPA under a court order to reduce frequency of these sewer over ows by 96% by 2025.
To clean up the mess, DC Water initiated the Clean Rivers Project which will spend $2.7 billion upgrade of the city’s stormwater infrastructure. DC rate-payers will have to pay for the Project through signi cantly increased fees on their water bills over the next 30 years. Unfortunately, the fees will be quite regressive. Low-income DC homeowners will have to pay at the same rates as wealthier homeowners—eventually up to $1,200/year.
WIN has been organizing to ensure that the Clean Rivers Project produces multiple benefits, in particular jobs for DC residents living in high unemployment zones and returning citizens, while supporting needed improvements to the District’s sewer system the region’s water quality.
Despite District having its lowest unemployment levels in the last ve years, unemployment remains stubbornly high for some DC neighborhoods. Ward 8 has an unemployment rate of almost 18%. The rate is even higher among certain at-risk populations, such as returning citizens and residents without high school diplomas. WIN’s research found DC Water’s employment of local residents was extremely low. WIN’s position is that if DC residents are going to have to pay large rate increases for many years, DC Water needs to increase its local hiring to do its fair share in alleviating unemployment and underemployment.
“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.