WASHINGTON, D.C. – Metro employees and union leaders protested and demanded the removal of General Manager and CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld after the agency provided special accommodations to white supremacist supporters to the Aug. 12 Unite the Right rally.
Led by their president and Largo resident, Jackie Jeter, over 40 members of ATU Local 689 chanted for the removal of Wiedefeld outside of the Metro Center Station entrance on Aug. 16, demanding transparency from Metro and asked train riders to be a part of their letter campaign.
“We are asking for the same thing to happen to him that happens to any WMATA employee when you lie,” Jeter said. “That is the penalty and it is in the rulebook.”
Metro released a press release on Aug. 6 that it was “not preparing a special train for the private use of any group” after the ATU union, which represents train operators, clerical and maintenance staff, told media outlets that it was part of the preliminary plans.
After the press release, Metro officials called the union office “daily” until Aug. 10, said Recording Secretary Brenda Thomas. The interactions included a face-to-face meeting with the general manager in which he confirmed that no special accommodations to the rally would be provided, Thomas said.
“I asked him if they were going to be any plans for Sunday,” Thomas said. “And he lied right to my face. So, guess what? We want your damn resignation now.”
Reports show that white nationalist demonstrators were able to ride into the city privately through one of the cars in the train from the Vienna station, accompanied by police officials and media. Jeter said that a gap train, used to accommodate train riders during construction delays, made the unscheduled pick-up in Vienna to take rally attendees to Foggy Bottom.
An unscheduled ride back to Vienna was also provided according to Jeter. Conductors told the union that they did not know about rally guests until they pulled up to the station and spoke to an accompanying Metro supervisor.
“The penalty for leaving the train on the platform unattended is termination so they did not know (about the rally supporters),” Jeter said. “Wiedefeld put their jobs in jeopardy because they have to choose whether or not (they) stand up because this is something I do not believe in morally or do I continue feeding my family and keep working.”
Protesters included current and past employees of the transit agency, chanting “Wiedefeld has to go” and “shame” as they received honks of support from drivers and fellow bus operators. Members of the local chapter of Black Lives Matter and other transit unions joined in with the protest, covering large portions of the sidewalk. Signs showing Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler and rally supporters entering the train flanked with police were on display.
Upper Marlboro resident Barry Wilson, 42, has worked with Metro for over 19 years and said he felt “let down” that accommodations were made without checking on the concerns of the employees. The actions committed could spark more discriminatory groups to feel emboldened to ask for special treatment as well, Wilson said.
“I’ve never seen anyone, let alone a hate group, get this type of treatment when they come to town,” Wilson said. “We know what happened in Charlottesville and luckily, it did not happen here…but what this does is for the next rally, it gives them confidence because of the treatment they got, to come back in stronger numbers, so we will never know what we have come because of what Wiedefeld did.”
When asked about the issue of safety being a reason of why accommodations were made, Jeter said the assertion “is crap” as the employees deal with rallies on a daily basis and Metro has yet to provide a reason. Preliminary estimates from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office show the city spent $2.6 million on handling the rally.
Protesters handed out letters to Metro riders before they boarded, asking them to mail them to government officials that are in charge of creating the Metro board to remove Wiedefeld. This included including Bowser, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.
The union and Metro officials had been going back-and-forth for months in contract negotiations with threats of a strike almost occurring during the MLB All-Star Week festivities. On Aug. 15, arbitrators helped negotiate a new four-year deal between the two parties with a 1.6 percent wage increase for employees.
Despite the outcome, Jeter said the actions from rally were the “final straw” for the union and their deteriorating relationship with Wiedefeld.
“Never had the city of Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia been punked like this before,” Second Vice President Raymond Jackson said. “(Wiedefeld) just made us the national capital of punks of this county by selling us out for a terrorist group. Call them what they are. They are not white nationalists, they are terrorists.”
Metro failed to respond for a comment on the union protest.