We stand against the privatization of transit workers

Councilmember Cheh, Council Chair Mendelson, and members of the DC Council

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DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) contracts out the operation of the DC Circulator Bus and DC Street Car to private for-profit corporations. The for-profit corporations get rich off of our tax dollars at the expense of workers wellbeing and riders safety. Transit privatization exploits our workers, the majority of whom are African American, further increasing the racial and economic divide in our city. Private contractors have held down workers wages so much that many full-time employees qualify for Medicaid. At the DC Circulator the for-profit company, First Transit, underpaid workers for their labor and a DC audit revealed that First Transit has blatantly ignored the DC Paid Sick Leave Act. Private companies also threaten the safety of riders. First Transit forced workers to violate District safety standards by taking out buses that did not pass pre-trip safety inspections. In fact, a 2015 safety audit found that only 2 of 42 Circulator buses inspected were fit for service.


Many congregations, through the Washington Interfaith Network (WIN) has been organizing in solidarity with the frontline workers of the Amalgamated Transit Union to ensure our public transit workers are treated with dignity and respect. In 2016, WIN stood in solidarity with ATU Local 1764 Circulator members, fighting for and winning a 3-year contract to increase wages, triple First Transit’s contributions to employee 401(k) plans, and ensure that drivers won’t have to operate buses that do not meet safety standards. Now everything workers struggled for and won could be lost and 200 people might be at risk of being laid off.


The DC Government has again put its Circulator contract out for bid, and greedy private companies, with the same track record as First Transit are competing. These competitions have often been won by a race to the bottom for who can provide the lowest price by cutting wages and benefits and cutting corners on safety. This contract will come before the Council any day. DDOT has expressly refused to say whether current employees will retain their jobs. Leaving the union of working people in our city to fight against multinational companies with almost unlimited resources. We want the DC Government to stop contracting out, and at the very least we want our politicians to require parity with public transit employees in wages, healthcare and retirement benefits for the DC Circulator and Streetcar workers. To achieve this, WIN and transit workers have been meeting with our elected officials on the DC Transportation Committee, including Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, who is the head of the Transit Committee. Councilmember Cheh has stated she is against privatization but could go further by committing to:

  • Call a hearing on the effectiveness of transit Privatization before voting on a contract for the Circulator
  • Put a hold on the DC Circulator contract and tell DDOT Director Marootian to put forward a new plan that includes municipalization of the Circulator, and
  • Put language in the budget support act that requires wage, healthcare and retirement parity with government workers to ensure that allocated funding in FY19 budget leads to meaningful improvements for workers

Our faith traditions teach us that all people should be treated justly. We remember the words of the prophet Isaiah condemning the exploitation of workers: “You seem eager for God to come near you. Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.” (Isaiah 58:2-4.)


No matter our differences, our faith traditions lead us to fight against the exploitation of people, to stand up to say: people who work for a living, ought to earn a living! Most of us want the same things, we want to be treated with dignity and to be paid enough to provide for our family and able to set our children off to a bright future. Transit workers are no different. They are not only members of our congregations but they are the people who help our congregants and all citizens commute to their jobs, obtain necessary services, and attend our houses of worship.


Each one of us ministers not only to our own congregation but to our city. We have an opportunity to shape the city in accord with our deepest values by stopping the contracting out of transit services and ensuring that DC transit workers earn a good living and have a good life. But the only way we can do this is together.


The Council must act to protect our city’s transit riders and workers from the exploitation of private companies, whose only interest is profit.

Sponsored by

To: Councilmember Cheh, Council Chair Mendelson, and members of the DC Council
From: [Your Name]

As faith and community leaders, we believe all people who work for a living, ought to have good pay and benefits that allow them to raise healthy families, get their children off to a bright future, and retire in dignity. That is we signees are joining leaders of the Washington Interfaith Network (WIN) in solidarity with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) members at the DC Circulator, DC StreetCar and Metro, to stand against the privatization of transit workers.

DDOT Director Marootian is proposing a 5-year multi-million dollar contract that could mean over 200 transit workers are fired, lose their union, and are hired back with lower wages, poor health insurance, and no retirement benefits. This is not treatment befitting of public servants and does not represent the DC values we believe in.

We know privatization does not work. For years, for-profit corporations have failed to provide good service at the Circulator. Under the current operator, First Transit, a 2015 safety audit found only 2 of 42 Circulator buses inspected to be fit for service. Riders and bus operators have unnecessarily been put at risk. WIN’s research shows that private transit operators across the country have similar records of poor performance. Privatization eliminates good public-sector transit jobs for DC workers and their families. In our city, many of these workers are African American and privatization further exacerbates economic inequality.

The Council must act to protect our city’s transit riders and workers from the exploitation of private companies, whose only interest is profit. We are calling on you, Councilmember Cheh and DC councilmembers to:

Call a hearing on the effectiveness of transit Privatization before voting on a contract for the Circulator
Put a hold on the DC Circulator contract and tell DDOT Director Marootian to put forward a new plan that includes municipalization of the Circulator, and
Put language in the budget support act that requires wage, healthcare and retirement parity with government workers to ensure that allocated funding in FY19 budget leads to meaningful improvements for workers

It is up to our elected officials to help create safe working conditions and opportunities to for DC workers and to protect riders from for profit companies that deprive DC of a reliable, safe and cost-effective system. It is up to you to act.