Longtime union activist pushes MoCo minimum wage: 2013
Craig G. Simpson, a long-time union activist and officer within Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, is shown November 27, 2013 near the end of his career speaking outside the Montgomery County Council in favor of a minimum wage increase while executive director of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 400.
Simpson grew up in Glenmont and White Oak, Maryland and was an activist before coming to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA, or Metro) in 1974 as a bus operator.
He attended his first anti-Vietnam War demonstration at age 15 when he participated in the run-up to and the march on the Pentagon itself in October 1967.
He was active in high school and became the subject of FBI surveillance during that period for his work helping to organize a chapter of the Montgomery County Student Alliance at Springbrook High School, helping to publish an “underground” newsletter at the school and organizing a student walkout in support of the Montgomery County teachers strike in 1968.
He continued his antiwar and social justice activism, including being arrested for confronting Nazis in Washington, D.C., picketing the Ku Klux Klan in Rising Sun, Md. and contributing to an alternative newspaper, the Washington Area Spark.
He completed three years at the University of Maryland before dropping out to go to work full-time. While in college he worked part time at the National Student Association from 1969-72 where he edited their newsletter and participated in organizing the national student strike of 1970.
He was a union activist at Metro almost as soon as he was hired, organizing fellow bus operator probationary employees to honor the picket lines during the 1974 transit union strike.
He attempted to run for shop steward in 1976 at Western Division in Friendship Heights, but was one union meeting short of the required number to run for office.
After transferring to Northern Division, he attempted to organize the Montgomery County Ride On service in 1977, working with a friend who worked at the suburban bus company to obtain 28 of 30 union authorization cards for Local 689. However the international union wasn’t interested at that time and the Local 689 leadership did not pursue the effort.
He helped to organize the 1978 wildcat strikes at that Northern Division protesting the rape of a female bus operator and for payment of a cost-of-living due during the period the contract between WMATA and the union was being arbitrated.
He ran for shop steward/executive board member at Northern Division in 1980, but was defeated in a runoff election 252-217.
He was elected to shop steward/executive board from Northern in December 1982 and re-elected three more times. He was appointed business agent in 1989, initially assigned to maintenance and construction grievances and working to organize opposition to privatization of Metrobus lines.
He won his first battle to prevent Prince George’s county from privatizing the Metrobus garage on Southern Avenue by organizing civic associations in the area to oppose privatization and demand improved Metrobus service.
He was one of three ATU Local 689 officers who were among the hundreds of people arrested at the South African Embassy in 1985 in protest of that country’s white supremacist policies at that time.
In 1993 he was appointed to fill the unexpired term of John A. “Jack” Thomas as secretary-treasurer with the approval of the executive board and a vote at a union membership meeting.
He was elected in 1994 and re-elected in 1997 to the post.
During that period he continued to lead opposition to privatization of Metrobus routes, led the first local 689-led successful organizing drive in decades when Fairfax Connector workers in Herndon voted to join the ATU. Simpson also negotiated their first contract.
He also led much of the union’s political and legislative work during his time as appointed business agent and financial secretary-treasurer.
The peak of that work was during 1995-96 when a Regional Mobility Panel, composed of local transit professionals and elected officials and staff, began considering privatization of the entire Metrobus system.
He and President James M. Thomas Jr. mobilized hundreds of union members to attend public hearings, developed community allies, bought radio and newspaper ads, lobbied elected officials and threatened to spend $5 million to defeat any political leader who moved forward with the idea. The two passed out copies of the union’s financial statement to prove they had the money on hand to wage the campaign. The proposal was dropped.
As financial secretary-treasurer, he increased the union’s assets from $4.5 million in 1993 to over $10 million in December 2000 when he decided to forgo re-election and retire.
Subsequent to retirement, he finished his undergraduate work and received a B.A. in Labor Studies from the National Labor College, took contract work at the Metropolitan Washington Council, AFL-CIO, Progressive Maryland and back at ATU Local 689 where he led political and legislative work for those organizations.
He finished his career at the 30,000-member United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 400 where he was executive director 2013-16.
At Local 400 he was an advocate of local legislative solutions like minimum wage increases, paid sick days, paid family leave and other measures to improve the lot of low-wage retail workers who lacked sufficient bargaining power to obtain these benefits through regular contract negotiations. Simpson advocated that after passage, collective bargaining could be utilized to increase wages and benefits above those levels.
He also advocated for increased organizing resources, including organizing undocumented workers; member mobilization; financial accountability and building the local union's strike fund; employing the threat of a strike as a weapon in contract negotiations; hiring a more activist staff; and opening regional offices in the union's vast territory of the District of Columbia, Maryland suburbs, the entire states of Virginia and West Virginia and parts of Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. .
He currently writes photo descriptions and occasional blog posts for the Washington Area Spark Flickr photo site and website.
He left the Washington, D.C. area in 2016 and currently resides in North Carolina.
For more information and related images, see flic.kr/s/aHsmBecEDi
The photographer is unknown. The image was donated by Craig Simpson