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Fiscal Cliff? Try Cap Metro Cliff!

ATU 1091 authorizes bus strike: What next?
Michael King, 5:30pm, Fri. Nov. 9, 2012
Photo by John Anderson
Jay Wyatt
While the DC talking heads are all hysterical about "fiscal cliffs" and "CIA betrayals" (marital variety), Austin has a real problem. Call it the "CapMetro cliff." Who's gonna ferry all those gearheads to the Circuit of the Americas next week?

Although it's still at the dueling declaration stage, there's now an official possibility of a bus drivers' strike next week, leading into the weekend and the inaugural Formula One race. On Thursday, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1091 members voted 86% to "authorize" a strike if its negotiations with subcontractor McDonald Transit – which now manages most Cap Metro bus routes – break down. And ATU 1091 President Jay Wyatt says that's exactly what's happening. He told KXAN-TV's David Scott, "McDonald came in and said they were not honoring the contract. They were tossing it out. It's part of CapMetro's efforts to bust the union going back to 2005."

While the authorization does not certainly mean a strike call, it strengthens Wyatt's hand in negotiations – which he says are not happening right now. Cap Metro President/CEO Linda Watson issued a statement saying the agency is working on contingency plans to continue service in the event of a strike, and insisting that it has no direct part in contract negotiations. "Capital Metro is not a party to any of the negotiations between the union and McDonald Transit," said Watson, "and is not able to interfere in any way. McDonald Transit and the union have been negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement since July 2012." The contract situation is greatly complicated by state law, which bans collective bargaining for public employees (Cap Metro is considered a "quasi-state agency"), in contrast to federal law, which specifically grants collective bargaining rights for federally funded programs (e.g., like local mass transit).

City Council Member Mike Martinez, who also chairs the Cap Metro board of directors, also issued a statement, which read in part: "While I respect the decision of the ATU members to self-determination, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that ATU asked for the current labor structure. … This action, at such a critical time for the agency, will undoubtedly harm not only our ability to provide service to those who rely on Capital Metro the most, but also to the ATU members who are putting good faith negotiations at risk.

"Strikes should be utilized as a last effort after discussions break down, not a first knee-jerk reaction before all other options are considered. It is my hope that the members of ATU continue their amazing service and remain at the bargaining table with McDonald in order to resolve remaining issues." We'll have more on the situation as it becomes available. Some background is available here and here.

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