After a discussion behind closed doors, board members opted not to appeal a U.S. District Court decision giving Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 workers the 3 percent raises. The transit agency had lost two rounds of the fight: an arbitration panel sided with the union in 2009, then the agency lost the first court appeal on July 22.
"The board agreed we've engaged in this for three years and it's been difficult negotiations," board Chairwoman Cathy Hudgins told reporters. "With $1.5 million in legal fees, now it's time to determine how we're going to move forward in the agency."
The decision means that some 8,000 Metro workers -- including bus and train operators, station managers, escalator mechanics and custodial crews -- will get 3 percent raises each year for 2009, 2010 and 2011.
"That's nice to know," station manager Debra Taylor said when told of the news. "They're giving us more and more work to do. I just had to mop an elevator because someone urinated."
She, like three other employees interviewed, planned to use the money to pay bills.
The decision will not mean additional fare increases or subsidies to riders and taxpayers. Metro said it had set aside $96 million to pay for the wages. Metro expects to have to pay an additional $8 million in pension benefits, as well.
The process for paying the money still needs to be determined, and both sides said it will take several weeks.
Hudgins said she was dismayed the court had not sided with Metro and disagreed with the court's opinion that the increases would be easily absorbed in a time when other local workers have been furloughed or faced pay cuts.
She also goaded Metro employees into stepping up their customer service to riders who are paying the money through fares and taxes. "If you're going to accept this award, you've got to partner with us in meeting the expectations of customers," she said.
The union responded that it was "disheartened" by her comments, saying it seemed like an attempt to sway public opinion. ATU Local 689 President Jackie Jeter said her members haven't received a wage increase since 2007. "There's nothing to say all workers shouldn't get a wage increase, especially when there's all these reports on what CEOs are taking home," she said.
The two sides already are staking claims on the next battle.
Hudgins warned that workers should not expect raises in next's budget. But ATU Local 689's contract is slated to expire next summer so a new round of negotiations are expected to begin in the spring. "We fully expect to discuss wages during those talks," the union said.