DC Metro Wildcat Strikes: 1978
Workers at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA--often called Metro) went on wildcat strikes twice in 1978.

Walkout Protests Operator Rape

Bus operator anger over lack of security and police protection had been building for years as assaults and robberies mounted. It boiled over May 17, 1978 after the early morning rape of a 32-year old female bus operator at Ridge & Burns Streets SE by a man with a knife.

The strike began May 18 at the former Southeastern Bus Garage at One-Half Street and M Streets SE and spread throughout the day to the Bladensburg Road garage and the Northern Garage at 4615 14th Street NW. A meeting was organized at an RFK Stadium parking lot that evening where striking drivers voted to suspend the strike for two weeks on the condition that a settlement was reached on the safety issue.

The strike resulted in increased police patrols on buses, a shield installed behind the driver, an emergency "panic" button and repairs to broken radios.

Wildcat Over Cost-of-Living.

Discontent with both management and union leaders continued unabated, however. It bubbled over again at a July 18 meeting of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 689. Frustrated over WMATA's failure to pay a quarterly cost of living (COLA) increase due under a contract clause that called for all terms and conditions to remain "undisturbed" during an contract arbitration process, union members repeatedly demanded the union hold a strike vote.

Union leadership correctly pointed out that a strike would be illegal based on their experience in the 1974 strike and ultimately left the meeting. A rump meeting was then held by about 200 who called for a strike at 10 am the next morning.

Few bus operators walked off the job, but a large number of mechanics called out sick at the Bladensburg overhaul shop. The afternoon Daily News reported that dozens of mechanics had been fired. A meeting held at an RFK Stadium parking lot of rank-and-file Metro workers called for a strike to begin at midnight around two demands: Metro pay the COLA and amnesty for all strikers.

Workers heeded the strike call July 20. The vast majority of workers at all eight bus garages, including the Prince George's garage (4421 Southern Ave SE) represented by the Teamsters, refused to work. Subway trains, which ran only from Silver Spring to Dupont Circle and from Stadium-Armory to National Airport, were also shut down.

The workers held meetings at each reporting location and elected leaders. In the absence of today's cell phones and instant messaging, workers held regular meetings of the strike leaders and rank and file at an RFK Stadium parking lot. William T. Scoggin Jr., an operator from the (former) Arlington Garage at N. Quincy Street & Wilson Blvd. in Arlington, VA, was elected spokesperson.

Metro responded by temporarily withdrawing discipline and obtaining court injunctions against individual strikers from Judge Louis Oberdorfer. But Oberdorfer went beyond listening to the lawyers from Metro and the union and appointed two labor lawyers Charles "Chip" Yablonski and Charles Booth to advise him.

The strikers ultimately retained their own attorney to represent them before Oberdorfer.

On Sunday July 23 with the strikers holding firm, Oberdorfer ordered WMATA to post a $40,000 per week bond to insure that the money for the cost of living increase was provided for, ordered expedited arbitration of the COLA dispute, ordered the union and Metro to take increased measures to inform workers their strike was illegal and threatened to jail strikers who refused his back to work order.

A mass meeting was held that Sunday evening at RFK attracting about 400 strikers. Scoggin urged a return to work, advising that the workers had won as much as they were going to win. However, other speakers urged a continuation of the strike until amnesty was granted. In a voice vote, Scoggin was replaced as spokesperson by Eugene Ray, a bus operator from the 4-Mile Run yard located at 3501 S. Glebe Road in Arlington, VA.

On July 24, WMATA responded by re-opening the Metrorail system with supervisors and a few workers who crossed picket lines. Scoggin's Arlington Division went back to work along with a few scattered operators at other Divisions. Management began circulating false rumors that other locations were already back to work.

Hindered by lack of communications, the strikers began to waver and by the afternoon of Tuesday, July 25, service was restored to normal as one location after another returned to work en masse.

Aftermath

US District Court Judge Thomas Flannery fined a number of individual members for contempt of court for their roles in the strike. WMATA fired 10 strikers, suspended 86 for 1-9 days without pay and reprimanded 54.

Discipline was ultimately reduced for many who filed grievances through the union, including nine strikers whose terminations were reduced to long suspensions without pay--largely because WMATA had failed to notify employees after two previous strikes that they could be terminated for walkouts. One fired striker, who did not file a grievance, was not reinstated.

An arbitration panel ruled in favor of the strikers and WMATA paid the quarterly COLA increase that initially triggered the strike. A separate arbitration on the expired overall labor agreement retained the quarterly COLA but ruled that WMATA could hire part-time bus operators with no benefits or seniority.
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