Union head calls strike vote over missed pension payments: 1970
Union president George Apperson talks with a. Washington Star reporter April 10, 1970 in the offices of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 at 100 Indiana Ave. NW after Apperson refused to take a check from D.C. Transit owner O. Roy Chalk who was seeking to pay the company’s back debt to the workers’ pension plan.
When Chalk came to the union office with a check made out for $777,789.70, Apperson refused to take it, telling Chalk that he needed to deposit it in the National Bank of Washington that administered the pension fund.
“I have hocked my shirt to get the money,” Chalk said angrily according to the Star.
“You’ve gotten rich and fat on our money over the past few years,” said Apperson who went on to remind Chalk that he had fallen millions of dollars behind in pension payments in the past.
Apperson scheduled a strike vote for April 12th and reminded Chalk that even with the check he held, he still owed $600,000 to the WV&M pension in Arlington. Chalk had purchased the company and assumed the debt.
Further it didn’t cover a $200,000 payment that was due the D.C. Transit fund for April 1970.
At the time Chalk was angling to operate the planned Metrorail system and his political stock would sink if the transit union struck over his finances.
City officials pressured Chalk to settle the issue and Apperson called off the strike after payments were made.
Apperson was president of the city transit union from 1964-1973, succeeding long time president Walter Bierwagen who took a full-time position at the ATU International union.
Among the challenges he faced was the loss in a 1968 arbitration of a clause guaranteeing retirees get the same percentage increase in their pension that active employees get in raises.
Apperson negotiated the return of the clause in the following agreement. The clause means that the union doesn’t have to negotiate separately for raises for retirees and ensures that retirees don’t have the same pension payment when they die as when they retired.
He also led the union on a quest for exact fare payment by passengers after the shooting death of operator James Earl Talley during an attempted robbery near Dupont Circle.
Apperson led the union members to refuse to work at night until exact fare was implemented. Operators working during the day voted to pay the night operators for lost wages. The issue was settled under pressure from city officials after more than a week when owner O. Roy Chalk agreed to institute a scrip system.
D.C. Transit became the first major transit system in the country to adopt exact fare and while the transition caused some loss in ridership, it was adopted in city after city nationwide.
Apperson was active politically, initially opposing public takeover of buses because of the attendant loss of collective bargaining rights. When that issue was resolved he became an enthusiastic supporter of the public takeover of the private bus companies serving the area as well as building the Metrorail system.
He was elected president of the Washington, D.C. Central Labor Council, the umbrella body for unions in the metropolitan area, in 1971, succeeding long-time labor council president J.C. Turner.
He presided over the union during the takeover of the four private bus companies by WMATA in 1973 and oversaw the merger of Locals 1131 and 1079 in Virginia into Local 689.
He attempted to organize the former WMA company Teamster-represented workers into Local 689 when Metro took over the Prince George’s garage on Southern Ave in Maryland, but was halted by the International union who had a no-raid agreement with the Teamsters Union.
The issue of who represented the WMATA-acquired Prince George’s Division then went to arbitration with Local 689 claiming recognition language in their contract and the Teamsters claiming successorship rights. WMATA’s overt attempt to force the garage into Local 689 offended the arbitrator who ruled in the Teamster’s favor.
Apperson was narrowly defeated 1398-1119in the December 1973.union elections by George Davis who campaigned in part on Apperson spending “too much time on Capitol Hill” and not enough on Local 689 business.
Apperson was a native of Arlington and operated streetcars and buses prior to his election as transit union president in 1964.
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Photo by F. Routt. The image is courtesy of the D.C. Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.