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Union seeing red over possible low Purple Line wages

Bryan P. Sears//Daily Record Business Writer//November 4, 2013

Union seeing red over possible low Purple Line wages

By Bryan P. Sears

//Daily Record Business Writer

//November 4, 2013

Union leaders say they want to ensure a public-private partnership meant to lower the costs of the proposed Purple Line doesn’t mean lower wages and benefits for future employees.

“What we don’t want is some foreign company coming into Maryland and treating transportation workers like second-class citizens,” said Fred D. Mason Jr., president of the Maryland State and District of Columbia AFL-CIO.

At the center of the union’s concerns are the jobs related to the $2.2 billion, proposed 16–mile Purple Line that will connect New Carrollton in Prince George’s County to Bethesda in Montgomery County. If all goes well, construction of the 21–station light rail line could begin in 2015 and be ready for its first passengers in 2020.

The state Board of Public Works is expected Wednesday to review and designate the project under Maryland’s public-private partnership laws that were streamlined earlier this year.

“People need to hear this message early and frequently,” Mason said. “We have to be that voice at the Board of Public Works.”

Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary James T. Smith Jr. said wages paid to operators and maintenance workers for the new line will be reviewed as part of the bidding process.

“Obviously, the operations and maintenance aspects of the project are five years down the road — after we build it,” Smith said. “You can’t really be negotiating specifics at this juncture.”

The expectation is that the Purple Line would be built as a public–private partnership with a business operating the line rather than the Maryland Transit Administration or the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Purple Line
This study area map for the Purple Line shows the proposed end-to-end alignment on a general level. (Source: Department of Transportation, Maryland Transit Authority).

The state also hopes to build the Red Line in Baltimore during the same time as the Purple Line. Some remain skeptical that there is enough federal money to build both simultaneously, but state officials believe the public-private partnerships will help secure enough private investment to ensure the completion of both projects.

Hourly wages range between $21 per hour for MTA workers to $27 per hour for transit workers employed by the WMATA, Mason said.

The AFL-CIO and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, which represents about 10,000 employees between the two transportation agencies, are concerned that corporate profits will come from reducing employee wages and benefits.

“If you’re looking to come into the state of Maryland and drive down workers’ standards, then the message we want to send is: ‘You picked the wrong place,’” Mason said.

If the Board of Public Works approves Wednesday, the Maryland Department of Transportation can move forward with identifying interested businesses and soliciting proposals. That process could begin in the next 30 days, according to Smith.

A short list of four joint venture bidders is expected to be finalized by the end of the year. Requests for proposal from those finalists could be issued in April with a finalist selected in fall of 2014, Smith said.

As part of that process, Smith said state officials will review the business and financial models of each proposal. The review will include how each concessionaire plans to operate and maintain the project.

Smith said it’s unlikely that workers will be paid low wages.

“You’re talking about highly skilled people who will be needed to operate and maintain this project,” Smith said. “Stability, talent and skill of the workforce is critical to the success of the project. These are going to be high-paid jobs.”

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