Metro's $2.52 billion budget that begins July 1 assumes that workers will not get any wage increases, beyond those that come with seniority, according to the agency.
But those expenditures do not take into account that the transit agency is still at the bargaining table with its largest union, which represents about 70 percent of Metro's 11,000-strong work force.
Metro has frequently been forced to give raises to the bus and train operators, station managers, mechanics and custodians who make the system run, most recently by the courts. That means the agency could be on the hook for millions of unanticipated costs.
The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 contract expires June 30, a day before the new budget begins. The transit agency and union have been working on crafting a new one since January.
The last contract involved a more than three-year battle costing Metro some $1.5 million in legal fees. The transit agency fought an arbitration panel's decision to award the workers 3 percent raises for three separate years. In July, a federal judge ordered Metro to pay the raises, and subsequent pension increases that amounted to a total of about $104 million. The agency had set aside about $96 million in prior budgets, meaning most of the money did not come as an unexpected cost, upending bottom lines.
But the pending budget, which a Metro board committee unanimously approved last week, has no money set aside. "Any wage changes for employees will depend upon those same employees identifying further cost savings," Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said.
But ATU Local 689 President Jackie Jeter said the transit agency is presumptuous to assume no wage increases.
"If you have millions of dollars for laptops, trips to Japan, unlimited contractors and unlimited overtime, you should be prepared to take care of the 8,500 employees that make this system continue to work each and every day," she said. "If an auditor examined the budget you will find that Metro finds the money to do what Metro wants to do!"
Metro has other key battles to fight with the union besides keeping wages steady. The board of directors last week said that reeling in pension costs had to be a priority and set aside as much as $250,000 to study ways of doing so. Currently Metro pays for all of ATU Local 689's pension costs, meaning workers do not contribute anything. Members of at least one of Metro's other unions do contribute part of the expense of their retirements, though.
Additionally, Metro agreed to set limits to workers' shifts after The Washington Examiner's reporting showed some workers logging 16 hour days for weeks on end. But to do that, Metro needs the union to agree.