By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]
Drivers for Alexandria’s bus company, DASH, filled city council chambers with red shirts and passionate words to ask for additional funds in the fiscal year 2020 city budget during Saturday’s public hearing.
Citing poor wages and raises, several DASH operators appealed to council for an additional $2.78 million in the budget for Alexandria Transit.
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“I’m asking that you give us $2.7 million added to the budget for Alexandria Transit so that we can have a better living [wage] and be able to keep operators driving for DASH – because we have the highest turnover rate here in the Washington, D.C. area,” Robert Stewart, an operator who’s worked for Alexandria Transit for five years, said.
For Stewart, the $20 an hour he earns just isn’t enough. The prospect of a 50-cent raise at the end of the year also isn’t enough, especially for DASH employees who are eying opportunities as operators in neighboring areas that pay more. Within the 140 DASH drivers, turnover is incredibly high, according to multiple drivers.
“When I started with DASH we had 18 people in my class and it’s been 18 months,” Everett Warren said. “Right now, out of all of them 18 that was in my class, there are only four left. The other 14 started and went to a better paying job as far as operators.”
Several veteran operators mentioned the lack of a pension plan or suitable retirement fund.
“I think it’s unfair for us to work all these years with no pension,” Arthur Wright, an operator with 19 years on the job, said. “… I have to work extra days just to pay my rent because of the cost of living in this town. It wears out on you.”
Low wages are only compounded by the poor treatment from administrators and higher ups, several DASH operators said.
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“You got these brothers and sisters getting up from their bed [at] three, four in the morning to come and serve this area, but when you ask about your pay, first thing [your administration] say is, ‘Ain’t no bars on the window. You can leave,’” Alphonza Clements said.
At the end of the initial public hearing, Councilor Mo Seifeldein acknowledged the issues raised by DASH operators.
“I think the past DASH administration has fell short and that that’s a responsibility the city should also be mindful of and that after all the hard work you’ve done and the past union busting that got us to this point, I think the city owes it to give you a proper compensation for all the work that you do,” Seifeldein said, urging council to move on the DASH issue before the end of the budget action period and appealing to DASH to treat its employees with greater respect.
Council unanimously approved the preliminary add/delete options for the FY2020 budget. The add/delete options include a proposal to repeal the local vehicle registration fee, an increase in the personal property tax from $5 to $5.33 to make up for that loss of revenue and $100,000 in “additional funding” for Alexandria City Public Schools, proposed by Councilor John Chapman.
A budget work session is scheduled for the April 23 council legislative meeting with a final decision set for April 29. Adoption of the budget is scheduled for May 1.