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Capital Bikeshare Employees Call for Fair Treatment, End to Wage Theft

Photo via Flickr/Jason OX4

Photo via Flickr/Jason OX4

For the last three years, Capital Bikeshare has provided more than 24,000 residents and visitors in the Washington, DC area with a greener and healthier alternative mode of transportation. But, as Hillary Lazar reports, in recent months its record as a model progressive employer has been called into question.

Eighteen current and former Bikeshare employees launched a petition and national media campaign to expose how Alta Bicycle Share, the contractor which operates DC’s program, has failed to uphold the terms of their federal contracts. They allege that Alta underpays employees and denies them promised benefits, not to mention routinely subjecting them to dangerous and unhealthy working conditions.

The petition, addressed to Mia Birk, President of Alta, demands that the company fork over $100,000 in back pay and benefits legally owed to employees. Federal and DC contractors and subcontractors such as Alta Bicycle Share must pay their workers no less than the minimum wages and benefits determined by locality, according to the McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act (SCA).  Although Alta agreed to these terms, Bikeshare employees consistently have been paid below what they are due.

When former Bikeshare mechanic, Samuel Swenson—who’s been spearheading the campaign—first started his job, he calculates that he should have been earning $14.43 an hour, plus “health and welfare” benefits. Instead, he’s received $13 an hour and was never offered any kind of health coverage. Swenson is only one of the many Bikeshare workers affected by Alta’s labor practices and owed thousands in back pay.

For two years, Bernie Smith, who helped build the very first Capital Bikeshare bikes, says he never received any of the welfare benefits he was promised, amounting to approximately $6,500 in back pay. Similarly, Omar Estrada and Spencer Turner, responsible for doing onsite emergency repairs, calculate that they’re both owed about $12,000 in benefits. And virtually all of the numerous “rebalancers,”  who make sure that bikes are readily available throughout the city, are due approximately $7,400.

Meanwhile, adding to the gravity of the situation, employees are being refused health coverage even though they work in highly dangerous conditions: biking through heavy traffic, enduring grueling hours of physical labor, and operating out of a poorly maintained warehouse near to a Superfund site.

Employees say they may even be penalized if they attempt to bring grievances about their conditions to Alta management. After voicing his concern over an unsafe repair station, for instance, Swenson was put on “close supervision” along with having his site access restricted. In response, Swenson filed for a federal investigation into the issue with the Department of Labor, now under review.

Swenson and the other employees at Capital Bikeshare insist that they remain committed to the overarching mission of Alta and the DC-based program, despite their public condemnation of the company for its labor practices. As expressed in their petition, they are “proud” to have “helped build Alta’s flagship Bikesharing program in DC . . . to see Alta landing big contracts all over the USA as a result of [their] hard work.”

Yet Bikeshare employees also assert the importance of fair treatment and compensation for employees, especially by a company like Alta that promotes healthy lifestyles and professes to be “progressive” in its mission and business practices.

By launching the petition and awareness campaign, they hope to encourage Mia Birk and Alta Bicycle Share to “set an example as a leader in good green jobs” and “do the right thing [by] comply[ing] with the law and pay[ing] us all the wages and health and welfare benefits that they have committed to do.”

For Bikeshare employees, it is not just about remittances for the workers in DC. Rather, as Alta continues to expand bike sharing programs to many of the major U.S. cities—including Citi Bike in New York; Divvy in Chicago; Hubway in Boston; Puget Sound Bikeshare in Seattle; and plans underway for San Francisco, Columbus, Baltimore, and Portland—it’s about ensuring the ethical treatment of all Alta workers.

It is no accident that the petition began circulating the same day of the New York Citi Bike debut. The issue of livable wages for Alta employees is particularly pressing for New York workers. New York Bikeshare, a subsidiary of Alta Bicycle Share, operates Citi Bike, but Citibank’s corporate sponsorship exempts the enterprise from the city’s minimum wage rate: $10.20 an hour with benefits or $11.75 an hour without benefits.

The good news for these Citi Bike workers, however, is that the efforts by the Bikeshare employees are already beginning to have some positive impact. In light of the DC employees’ complaints, New York City Council member Letitia James has begun an inquiry into wages and benefits for Citi Bike workers.

More than 1,500 Alta employees have already signed the petition, and unions such as the AFL-CIO are helping galvanize support for the bikeshare workers. On June 19, Bikeshare workers and supporters from the Employment Justice Center, DC Jobs with Justice and OurDC delivered the petition to Capital Bikeshare director Eric Gilliland as well as DDOT. Jobs with Justice also brought the petition directly to the Alta headquarters in Portland.

In an official statement released by Alta the day after the petition went public, the company denied allegations of worker mistreatment or violation of federal law. Instead, as reported on the official Capital Bikeshare blog, Alta reassured customers that they “fully value their work force and . . . are doing everything they can to ensure that they are in compliance with federal wage guidelines.” After the petition delivery, Alta released a subsequent statement affirming that they are cooperating with the federal inquiry and working to resolve the dispute.

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You can access the Capital Bikeshare petition here.

And for more information check out bikeworkers.tumblr.com/press

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One Response to Capital Bikeshare Employees Call for Fair Treatment, End to Wage Theft

  1. It wold be nice to see a copy of the contract between what every federal agency contracted with alta. you should FIOA it if not available, these are our tax dollars going to unscrupulous contractors.

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