The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced Oct. 28 the termination of 100 workers over the next week as part of wider efforts to balance an anticipated $290 million budget shortfall for fiscal year 2017.
The layoffs, which affect members of WMATA’s management and lower-tier workers, were part of Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld’s plan to eliminate 500 positions this year, announced in June. In May, WMATA laid off 20 station managers, including seven senior managers, ahead of the start of Safetrack, its $60 million, yearlong maintenance overhaul.
The proposed Metro budget for the 2018 fiscal year, which is pending approval by the Metro board of directors, plans to compensate for Metro’s declining ridership and financial woes by laying off 1,000 workers, cutting employee health care expenses and hiking fares by 10 cents.
Wiedefeld emphasized in an Oct. 28 email to WMATA staff that the layoffs stemmed from attempts to balance its budget shortfall.
“I anticipate that Metro will have to make many difficult decisions to balance the budget,” Wiedefeld wrote. “Over the next few days, Human Resources will be working with the executive team to notify about 100 employees about impacts to their jobs due to the budget actions we are taking.”
Stephen Fuller, a senior advisor and director of special projects at the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, said the layoffs this year resulted from an unwillingness to raise rates for riders. As no extra revenue is expected for Metro, there needed to be cutbacks to fill the budget deficit.
“Politically, none of the local jurisdictions are keen on raising the rates, but no one wants to contribute more money either, so you have to cut expenses,” Fuller said. “And the only way is, if you can’t raise revenues, and you have a budget deficit, you have to cut service and one way of doing that is to get rid of jobs.”
Forty-five of the 100 terminated employees belonged to the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents 6,000 Metrobus and Metrorail operators and mechanics in the metropolitan area.
The union’s local chapter Communications Coordinator David Stephen said the union was willing to cooperate with WMATA to prevent future cutbacks.
“Making cutbacks and looking at ways to decrease the size and decrease the operation of this system is not the direction WMATA should be moving in,” Stephen said. “So, we find it regretful, and we are hopeful that we will be able to find other means of making sure that WMATA is able to make up its shortcomings.”
Fuller noted the cutbacks might be a way to notify the local officials running WMATA of further economic problems in the region’s future if money is not raised quickly. According to Fuller, around a quarter of commuters use Metro. With the cutbacks, that number could further be reduced.
“The implications of these cutbacks send a message that may get the attention of local elected officials,” Fuller said. “They may be more willing to cough up the money necessary and make the system run more efficiently.”
Fuller cited the inability of the governments of Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., to work together to create funding for the Metro as the main reason for the financial deficit. He said 100 layoffs would be just the beginning for budget cuts.
“This is a test on whether or not we can get our act together and the elected officials have failed. They have not come together and declared an emergency,” Fuller said. “What you have in the 100 jobs and some reduction in service is the tip of the iceberg.”
Stephen suggested that WMATA management cut back the amount of outside private contractors they hire to evaluate the Metro, saying the expenses incurred by Safetrack could have been circumvented if
Wiedefeld had consulted more with union members.
“There have been a number of studies and consultants that have been brought in in various areas of WMATA that has literally cost the system tens of millions of dollars,” Stephen said. “What the system has not done, or what the authorities have not done, is actively engage and implement the ideas of their workforce.”
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