The $96 million is a preliminary price tag after a lengthy legal fight between the transit agency and its largest union but doesn't include the legal costs, which topped more than $1.8 million between both sides.
U.S. District Court in Maryland Judge Peter J. Messitte upheld an arbitration panel's decision that the transit agency should pay Metro's Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 workers 3 percent raises for three years.
That means all of Metro's bus and train operators, station managers, escalator and elevator technicians, plus scores of others are due a 3 percent raise for 2009, another 3 percent on top of that for 2010 and 3 percent more for all paychecks in the current fiscal year that started July 1.
Metro has set aside $96 million to pay the workers, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel told The Washington Examiner. The agency had reserved $46 million in the past and budgeted $50 million in the current budget, he said. The exact payouts still need to be determined and could take time to calculate as employees who retired recently could be eligible for some back pay.
It's not a done deal, though. The transit agency has until Aug. 21 to appeal the decision. Stessel told The Examiner on Wednesday that the agency hasn't decided what to do.
But the agency's legal fees already have reached $1.5 million, he said.
The union has paid out more than $300,000, ATU President Jackie Jeter said. That's money that otherwise would have been spent on seminars and training workshops for workers, she said.
The transit agency had argued that it couldn't afford to raise wages. But its own fiscal management may have been part of its undoing. The judge's opinion cited the agency's most recent budget approved in June as evidence that Metro could afford to pay the raises because it didn't need to make any layoffs, service cuts or fare increases to afford the $2.55 billion budget.
"Although external events should ordinarily have no bearing on the court's analysis or its decision as to the ultimate validity of the award, recent events suggest that WMATA may in fact be able to absorb the awarded wage increases without significantly raising fares or cutting services," Messitte's opinion states.
Even if Metro decides not to appeal, more battles lie ahead. ATU Local 689's current contract is slated to expire next summer so a new round of negotiations are expected to begin in the spring.