The workers at the busiest transit agency in the country say they have been forced to find alternate work in order to make ends meet.
They are being squeezed out by the rapidly growing number of trains that take passengers between Washington, D.C., and Boston, where the national average commute is 30 minutes.
Many of the workers are young, single and looking for a job.
But they say the lack of support and other services has also put them in a bind.
They say they want a job that allows them to pay for their college tuition and the cost of child care and a car, but that the federal government has not offered them any.
They want a wage increase, more job security and an increase in benefits.
The Transportation Workers Union has organized pickets outside of the agency’s headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, and has also posted flyers outside the offices of the Federal Transit Administration, the agency that manages the nation’s rail system.
The union says the agency has failed to provide a wage rise since last year and that it’s trying to organize more employees.
“I am here today because of the lack [of a wage] increase, and because I am here because I know that if I do not organize, there will be no union,” said Jennifer Lai, an organizer with the union.
“We need to have a union to get what we need.”
The agency has been grappling with a $7 billion budget deficit for the next three years.
The agency has about 4,200 workers, which means they are among the most vulnerable members of the workforce.
They are not paid overtime.
They work long hours and are paid $2.10 an hour.
They earn about $40 an hour, but the federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and they earn less.
They receive no health insurance.
They have a $2,500 monthly health care benefit and have to work overtime to keep their pay.
They can only receive $1,800 a month in food stamps or $1.50 per hour in cash assistance.
They also have no vacation, and most work more than 40 hours a week.
A recent analysis by the National Employment Law Project found that, in the first five months of 2017, 4,000 of the more than 8,300 employees it surveyed had been laid off.
That number could be as high as 16,000 because of a backlog in unemployment benefits and the agency is struggling to fill vacancies.
“They’re not receiving the benefits they need and that’s a huge problem,” said Alex Chapple, an associate professor of sociology at George Washington University.
Chapple says it is “not unreasonable” for the workers to think they would be able to get ahead without the help of the federal safety net.
But Chapple says the federal labor force is shrinking.
In a statement, the Federal Railroad Administration says the TWAF is seeking a raise in its hourly wage to $10.25, with the goal of reaching $15 by 2019.
It says it supports the union’s right to organize, but will not negotiate over pay or benefits.
It has also made clear that it is willing to negotiate with the TWMU and its members for an increase to the agency.
In Arlington, workers are also protesting in front of the TFA’s headquarters.
They’re trying to get the agency to address safety issues in the agency and the workers say they need to make sure that doesn’t happen.