Skip to main content

Local 689-Washington, DC, Loudoun County Transit Picket Line: A Symbol of Unity and Strength

Picket lines are a space where union members come together to demand better working conditions, wages, and benefits. It’s a visible representation of the power that workers have when they fight for their rights.


Fed Up

Fed up with a lack of progress in contract talks and unfair labor practices, over 140 Loudoun County Transit workers, represented by ATU Local 689-Washington, DC, went on strike in the early morning hours of January 11, 2023.

Employed by private contractor Keolis, the fixed route and commuter bus operators, mechanics, paratransit drivers, dispatchers, and other transit workers, voted over 96% in favor of authorizing a strike on November 9, 2022.

“Keolis has left us with no other choice but to walk off the job,” said Local 689 President/Business Agent Raymond Jackson. “After months of negotiations, it has become clear that Keolis has been negotiating in bad faith, committing multiple unfair labor practice (ULP) violations in the process, and has no interest in giving our members the dignity and respect that they deserve.”


Lowball Bid

In April 2021, Keolis first took over the operation of the county’s transit service. At that time, Keolis refused to recognize the existence of the Union in the workplace and did not adopt the contract that was already in place. Keolis unilaterally slashed benefits like retirement and health insurance and began to impose a number of cuts on the workforce, such as a weekly guarantee of work hours.

Keolis forced the workers to hold another union election to recertify the bargaining unit. In April of 2022, Loudoun County Transit workers voted 95% in favor of unionizing again. Since then, Keolis has been delaying progress at the bargaining table by continuing to violate federal labor law at a staggering pace, with the National Labor Relations Board having found merit to at least 47 different Unfair Labor Practice Charges against Keolis.

“Keolis won this contract with a lowball bid with the intention of keeping pay low and cutting benefits to profit on the backs of our members,” said Jackson. “This company will only realize the true value of its workforce when we don’t show up to work. Keolis can’t drive or maintain these buses. Our members know that they’re the ones that help keep this region moving.”

Keolis had also failed to properly staff up in preparation for the opening of the Silver Line Phase II in Loudoun County. This has been primarily due to the wages and benefits provided by the company that places Loudoun County Transit as the lowest-paying transit agency in the region, while Loudoun County is one of the richest counties in the United States. 


Walking Out of Negotiations

On day two of their strike, members and Local leadership once again met with Keolis in hopes of reaching a fair contract for the workers that would end the work stoppage and get service up and running again. Keolis put an insulting last, best, and final contract offer on the table and refused to set new bargaining dates prompting striking workers to walk out of negotiations in disgust. Our members returned to the picket line with a renewed strength to stay united.


Top Three and GEB Hold the Line

Our striking members got a boost on the picket line when our top three officers, International President John Costa, International Executive Vice President Yvette Trujillo, International Secretary-Treasurer Ken Kirk, and the General Executive Board, visited the line.

“I am proud to be here with you today. Your strength and solidarity is sending a strong message to Keolis, a French company, that we demand a fair and just contract that allows you to provide for your families. They called us heroes during the pandemic but are treating us like zeroes,” Costa told the strikers. “You have the full support of your International, and together we will ‘Hold the Line’ until we get what we deserve.”

“It’s tough, but you have to stay encouraged. It’s tough, but you have to keep fighting. It’s tough, but if you give up now, you can’t turn back,” IST Kirk told the strike line.

“Stand strong. I’ve been on strike with my Local before. It’s not easy. But when we stand together, we stand solid. We are going to be behind you as well as all of our other brothers and sisters throughout the U.S. and Canada,” stated IEVP Trujillo. Inspired by the visit, our striking members marched and renewed their resolve for a fair and just contract.


French Embassy

In the third week of the strike, as Keolis continued to refuse to set negotiating dates, our fight for a fair contract ended up at the French Embassy in downtown Washington, DC, where striking workers assembled in the rain to tell Keolis to come back to the table. Keolis’ parent company SNCF Rail, which has the contract with the county, is controlled by the French government.


Keolis Has No Heart

On Valentine’s Day, our striking workers rallied to demand County Supervisors hold Keolis accountable. “It is crystal clear to all of us that Keolis is trying to crush our members at any cost,” Local 689’s Jackson told the loud rally. “They have consistently dealt with us in bad faith at the negotiating table. They lied to the County Board. They have no respect for the working families who need this transportation.”

Joining in solidarity at the rally were Teamsters Local 639 leaders, who also went on strike against Keolis in Prince William County, VA, Metro Washington Council AFL-CIO President Dyana Forester, Coalition of Labor Union Women President Elise Bryant, Northern Virginia Labor Federation’s Virginia Diamond, DC Jobs with Justice Elizabeth Falcon, SEIU 512’s Julius Reynolds, Leesburg Council Member Zach Cummings, UFCW 400 Bertha McKiver, National AFL-CIO Assistant to the President Isaac Gobern, and other supporters.

After the rally, our members and allies packed the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Finance Committee meeting to send a message to the Board that it’s time for Keolis to give our members the contract they deserve.


Never Cross a Picket Line

When this issue went to press, our Local 689 members will be on strike for over seven weeks, but they grow stronger every day. They’ve been through all kinds of weather and threats from management but nevertheless remain united. Picket lines are where union families are forged. They’re sacred and should always be respected. Support our members and all workers by never crossing a picket line.