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Less than one week after passenger service started on the H Street–Benning Road streetcar, its few dozen operators, technicians, and maintenance staff voted by a margin of 4 to 1 on Friday to join transit workers’ union ATU Local 689.

The vote follows two years of operations during which streetcar workers prepared the vehicles to ship riders from Union Station to Oklahoma Avenue NE. Now, ATU Local 689, which represents more than 10,000 Metro workers, seeks to negotiate a first contract with firms RDMT/McDonald Transit and Midtown Group, the latter a temp agency the District Department of Transportation hired to recruit streetcar employees. The union says Friday’s vote was “a huge victory.”

“We expect safety to be a top priority,” says ATU spokesperson Todd Brogan. “And let’s be real: A wage increase has to be part of the discussion… If Mayor Bowser wants to create pathways to the middle class, she can start right here.”

According to Brogan, streetcar workers make a starting salary of about $20 an hour, less than unionized Metro workers. That’s not enough for an employee with a child to live affordably in D.C., the union claims. Brogan adds that the union wants to ensure operators are safe on busy, mixed-traffic corridors and maintenance staff repair streetcar rails securely.

The union says that before last week’s vote, RDMT and Midtown “distributed anti-union materials in a desperate attempt to dissuade employees, including leaflets attacking ATU Local 689 President Jackie Jeter,” a release explains.

Asked to comment on the release and vote, DDOT’s Director Leif Dormsjo provided the following statement to City Desk: “DDOT has always been supportive of the rights of workers, including the freedom to organize themselves for collecting bargaining purposes. We will work with the system operator to understand the implications of having their employees represented by the union.”

ATU Local 689 members demonstrated at the streetcar’s grand opening last Saturday. Any of the involved parties may file a challenge to the bargaining unit’s vote within the next week or so, which could delay negotiations. The streetcar will be free for at least six months, during a promotional period.

Photo by Andrew Giambrone