Frustrated with poor wages, low hours, unfair treatment and weak benefits, Challenger paratransit bus drivers in Gaithersburg have unanimously voted to authorize a strike if they fail to reach a fair and just collective bargaining agreement that addresses worker concerns.
Represented by Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1777-Gaithersburg, MD, since last September when they won an NLRB election by an overwhelming margin, the paratransit bus operators have been in contract talks for almost a year.
Challenger bus workers, who only drive 30 hours per week, are the lowest-paid paratransit bus operators in the region, receiving over $4 per hour less than WMATA’s Metro Access drivers.
“This strike vote sends a loud and clear message to Challenger that these drivers demand to be paid fairly and treated with the respect and dignity they deserve,” says ATU International Vice President Natalie Cruz. “These drivers are treated and paid like part-time workers, making it nearly impossible to provide for their families. This is a ‘Fight for 40’ - forty hours a week. We will settle for nothing less.”
Under Challenger’s proposal to the union, workers would only average 30 hours a week, no guarantee of a stable income. Management has also proposed an unaffordable health care package, requiring employees to pay 100% of the premium cost for vision and dental. Furthermore, there is no retirement package in their contract offer.
“Challenger’s contract proposal is an insult to their workers, who provide an important service to the people of our community,“ Cruz continued. “It is time for Challenger to bargain a fair and just contract that recognizes the commitment, expertise and hard work their experienced bus drivers put in every day to safely transport seniors and people with disabilities.”
photo: ATU 689 shows solidarity with Local 1777