More Cap Metro Union, Contractor Gridlock

Strike a real possibility

More Cap Metro Union, Contractor Gridlock
Photo By John Anderson

The latest round of contract negotiations between Capital Metro's largest union, Amalgamated Transit Union 1091, and StarTran, Cap Metro's largest contractor, stalled out yet again Friday in the boardrooms of the Radisson Hotel. Local 1091 was joined at its table by its National Vice-President Ronald Heintzman, local labor leader Louis Malfaro, and Pastor Karl Gronberg from the Religion and Labor Coalition, there to ensure "operators at Capital Metro are compensated fairly."

StarTran's proposal did not meet with their approval; they initially offered a 10-year wage scale, where new hires take a decade to reach top pay, knocking starting salaries down from $13.56 hourly to $11.95. "You'd have to work for three years to get to the current average starting pay," said bus driver and union rep Bill Kweder. "We're talking about a three-year contract, and this is a 10-year plan. We're negotiating seven years into the future." StarTran knocked one year off the wage scale later that day, in what 1091 President Jay Wyatt called StarTran's "last final offer." A StarTran press release, lamenting what "should have been a win-win," noted, "There are no further negotiating sessions planned at this time."

With a proposal he considers untenable – including the 10-year wage scale, no retroactive pay raise for the months since 1091's last contract expired, and retiree health insurance the union claims will only cover a handful of its 800-plus members – Wyatt said he has little choice but to "take it to the members for a vote," the first time in the history of the local, Wyatt says, that a final offer hasn't been supported by 1091. A strike will most likely follow, although it's unknown if Wyatt could call for one before the ballot, a process that could take upward of two weeks. The bulk of 1091's employees went on a one-day strike Sept. 22, leaving Cap Metro scrambling for replacement drivers to operate considerably reduced routes.

Back at 1091's table on Friday, bargainers felt hamstrung by their lack of support and resources. Malfaro said the only way for negotiations to succeed is if "pressure is brought on board and Capital Metro [is forced] to negotiate in good faith." (1091 claims Cap Met is illegally controlling proceedings through their attorney, Jeff Londa, a self-professed specialist in "union avoidance," who is also representing StarTran in negotiations. Citing financial reasons, ATU 1091 recently withdrew a lawsuit against Cap Metro alleging interference.) Noting Cap Metro's shifting reasons for the wage cut, which wasn't called a financial necessity until recently, Malfaro suggested working with the transit authority to find ways to finance programs "short of just taking it out of the paychecks of the people that drive and service the buses." Malfaro also had "a sense Capital Metro board members … don't have complete information" about the transit authority's goals, or a comprehension of the direness of StarTran's proposals. "I don't even think [Capital Metro Board Chair] Lee Walker has a nuts and bolts understanding," Malfaro said.

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