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Many uncertainties when it comes to a possible Metro strike, Mason professor says

July 18, 2018

Terry Clower

How would a Metro strike affect the Washington, D.C., area? Beyond it being incredibly inconvenient for area commuters, the repercussions are difficult to assess before the fact, a George Mason University professor said.

“The major factor is, how long does it last?” said Terry Clower, a professor in Mason’s Schar School of Policy and Government and director of Mason’s Center for Regional Analysis. “Are we inconvenienced for a few days while the union makes a point, or do they try to hold out for a longer period of time?”

Metro’s largest union, which has been without a contract for two years amid differences with Metro over salaries, job cuts and privatization of certain jobs, recently voted to authorize a strike. Metro recently received dedicated funding from Maryland, Virginia and the District, but the $500 million in annual funding is contingent on keeping costs down.

If a strike does occur—the last one against Metro was 40 years ago—factors affecting how it plays out are numerous, Clower said.

For management, a calculation will be how long the system can keep going using supervisory personnel.

“And we really don’t know what management’s ability is,” Clower said. “I do not know this numerically, but I could suspect one of the things [Metro general manager] Paul Wiedefeld has had to do in the name of cost cutting is to lower the ranks of management, so there are fewer managers to put the system into an operational capacity.”

For the union, the political calculation might be most important. Metro workers are forbidden to strike under the system’s governing compact, so legal repercussions are possible. But there is also a public relations consideration.

“They’re going to have to lay it out that they’re striking over substantive issues,” Clower said. “They will have to be convincing [that] they are being treated unfairly and downtrodden. And, of course, management communications would [say], ‘We are treating these guys fairly and they’re being unreasonable in their demands, and the only way to meet their demands would be to ask for higher fares, higher taxes and less service.’”

So, what could a strike look like?

“If you want to get a sense, all you have to do is look back a year ago to see whether the disruption in services will be any worse than what we experienced last year during the repair surge,” Clower said. “In some respects, we’ve already been through this.”

Terry Clower can be reached at 703-993-8419 or tclower@gmu.edu.

For more information, contact Damian Cristodero at 703-993-9118 or dcristod@gmu.edu.

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George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls more than 36,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states and Washington, D.C. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.