Transit Strike Looming?

Union President Wyatt: "It will happen sometime this week"

ATU 1091 President Jay Wyatt
ATU 1091 President Jay Wyatt (Photo by John Anderson)

ATU Local 1091 President Jay Wyatt said Monday Capital Metro "is pushing for a strike." Wyatt accused the agency of driving the agenda of McDonald Transit, agency subcontractor. Referring to CapMetro's contingency plans, Wyatt said, "If any organization puts more energy into planning for a strike, that tells you they want the strike."

A spokesman for the agency said there is no truth to Wyatt's charges, and that Cap Metro has no role in the negotiations between the union local that represents about 600 drivers and mechanics, and subcontractor McDonald, which has been negotiating with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1091 intermittently since last April. "Negotiations are strictly between McDonald Transit and the union," said spokesman Dan Dawson, "and Capital Metro is not involved in it in any way." Asked about Wyatt's charge that the agency is driving the management negotiating agenda, Dawson said, "That is not true." While he acknowledged the agency has prepared contingency plans should a strike occur, he said Cap Metro has no interest in a strike and its disruption of ridership. "Oh my goodness, heavens no," he said. Dawson said the agency has plans in place to cover as much service as possible with other employees, including for this week's Formula One events.

Buy Wyatt insists that Cap Metro has been behind the unsatisfactory contract offers of McDonald, and that it is in keeping with the agency's previous practices. "It definitely seems we’re going to be heading towards a strike," he said Monday. "We have no choice. It will happen sometime this week." He said the negotiations have been in keeping with the agency's past practices, of preparing for a strike instead of good faith negotiations. "That’s what their plans are," Wyatt said, "instead of sitting down and working out our differences."

John Bartosiewicz, managing director of McDonald Transit, said he is surprised by Wyatt's statements, because he believes negotiations are proceeding slowly but steadily, and that another session is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 19. "Negotiations have in fact been making progress," Bartosiewicz said. "The union has signed many tentative agreements, and we’ve been trading proposals back and forth. So I’m surprised Jay would take that position." Bartosiewicz acknowledged that a new insurance plan had been installed Sept. 1 -- as required by law -- but insisted that the contract with the union is still under negotiation and negotiations had not reached an impasse.

Bartosiewicz also rejected Wyatt's charge that Capital Metro is driving the contract negotiations. "That is absolutely false," he said. "Capital Metro has no role in these negotiations. … No official from Capital Metro has given us any direction whatsoever on these negotiations, other than our contract with Capital Metro, which has some very specific requirements about how we are to conduct a negotiation. That’s all in writing, all public. The contract specifies we are to honor the expired Capital Metro agreement [with the union] until we have a new one, or reach an impasse."

But Wyatt charged that Cap Metro had in effect set the terms of negotiation by earlier media references to a "two-tier" wage system (under which new employees would be hired under a new, lower wage scale), and that McDonald is bargaining in bad faith, anticipating a formal impasse and then the imposition of its own terms. "Them saying the Capital Metro has nothing to do with it," said Wyatt, "that’s a bald-faced lie. If you look back at the media stuff -- [Cap Metro] had already crafted the proposal. They give the marching orders, in the paper, to whoever gets the contract, to come here and negotiate with us." Wyatt charges that the latest round of contract talks continues the agency's policy of cutting labor costs to make up for its expensive investment in commuter rail. "Making the employees pay for these trains," he said, "has been a continual saga with Capital Metro since 2005."

As Wyatt sees it, the negotiations have broken down, and he says the union has "no choice" but to strike. “We learned years ago, that if you’re talking to a wall, you don’t expect a response from a wall," Wyatt concluded. "So we just quit talking to the wall.” Responded Bartosiewicz, “Any talk of a strike I would consider premature, as negotiations are continuing.”

Earlier, Cap Metro board chair and City Council Member Mike Martinez said that the problem exists in part because the union rejected the choice to move "in-house" – a choice mandated by the state Sunset Commission, that would have required the union abandon the right to strike – and work directly with the agency to maintain traditional pay and benefits. Wyatt insists "that's not true," and there was no real alternative, but that Cap Metro CEO Linda Watson is repeating a negotiating pattern she pursued in an earlier transit situation in Orlando, Florida. "Those workers had the same issues we're dealing with," Wyatt said.

Martinez said Wyatt and the union are repeating a pattern that has created their own predicament and harmed their own cause. "This is what happens in these situations," Martinez said. "Every time they don’t get everything they want, they threaten to go on strike." Martinez continued, "It’s always somebody else’s fault. That’s been the M.O. since 2007, when at [ATU's] request, I agreed to sit on the board of Capital Metro to try to help address the long history of labor issues. I have done everything, and this board has done everything we could, to end this labor strife. The only reason we are still in this situation is because of attitudes like that, that it’s always somebody else’s fault. … I guess there was this expectation that if I got on the board, and took over as chairman, they’d get whatever they want, and things would go on as before. But this was a board decision, and the board unanimously agreed to contract out -- because we had to, for one, but two, because that was the position we were put in [by ATU]."

Martinez said he hoped the union would not force the issue with McDonald, but that it remained their choice. "What happens really depends on decisions that they make," Martinez said. "They have an option -- to get to the table and negotiate a deal with McDonald, and continue to provide the incredible services they already provide. Or they can walk out, and go on strike, and then see what happens with the strike -- but I don’t see that as being beneficial to their interests or anyone else’s." An earlier report on the situation is here.

The ATU 1091 web site is here.

Cap Metro's strike information page, with links to more information, is here.

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Transportation, Capital Metro, ATU Local 1091, Jay Wyatt, Mike Martinez, McDonald Transit, Linda Watson

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