ATU Strikes, After StarTran Rejects Compromise

Can Mike Martinez's proposal avert a bus strike?

City Council member and Cap Metro board member Mike Martinez announced a proposal last week designed to avert a bus driver strike. He's joined by (l-r), mayor pro tem and Cap Metro board member Brewster McCracken, Council Members Laura Morrison and Lee Leffingwell, local NAACP President Nelson Linder, and state Reps. Dawnna Dukes and Eddie Rodriguez.
City Council member and Cap Metro board member Mike Martinez announced a proposal last week designed to avert a bus driver strike. He's joined by (l-r), mayor pro tem and Cap Metro board member Brewster McCracken, Council Members Laura Morrison and Lee Leffingwell, local NAACP President Nelson Linder, and state Reps. Dawnna Dukes and Eddie Rodriguez. (Photo by Lee Nichols)

While most local Democrats, it seemed, were downstairs partying in celebration of Barack Obama's presidential win Tuesday night, City Council Member Mike Martinez was upstairs in a fifth-floor room of the Driskill Hotel working the phone, desperately trying to avert a strike by Capital Metro's unionized workers.

But his efforts to intervene in the dispute between Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1091 and StarTran, the contractor that actually hires the workers, ultimately failed, and on Wednesday morning, the transit agency's drivers and maintenance workers hit the ­picket lines.

Last Friday morning, the union announced that it would begin striking on Wednesday, after failing to come to a contract agreement with StarTran. That quickly set off a couple of press conferences, the first by Capital Metro and StarTran to announce plans for a highly reduced bus service during the strike and then another by Martinez to announce a stopgap, compromise contract proposal to keep service at full strength while the parties return to the table. A half-dozen local officials joined Martinez at the announcement. The union accepted the proposal, but StarTran General Manager Terry Garcia Crews balked, saying, "I truly believe that the negotiation process should be kept between the negotiating committee members for ATU and StarTran."

On Tuesday, Jay Wyatt, president of ATU 1091, sent a letter to Crews asking her to accept the Martinez proposal, but Crews rejected the request and replied that she was looking forward to returning to the negotiating table on Nov. 7 – which would be three days into the strike.

Capital Metro's labor problems have been brewing all year and, arguably, since 2005, when ATU staged a one-day strike over contract disagreements. The union is unhappy primarily with increases in health-care deductibles and a three-tier wage increase structure that Wyatt says will alienate newer hires from longer-tenured workers.

StarTran exists as the actual employer of Cap Metro workers because state law forbids Cap Metro from bargaining with a union, but federal law protects collective bargaining.

Martinez's proposal would:

be considered retroactive, running July 2007 until July 2009;

provide a retroactive pay increase of 3% for 2007-08 and a 2.5% increase for 2008-09;

accept StarTran's proposed health-care package;

eliminate the proposed tiered wage system;

conduct an independent audit of Cap Metro by a mutually agreed upon auditor, to be completed prior to July 2009.

Noting the recent increases in Cap Met­ro ridership, the upcoming implementation of a commuter rail line, and a Lege session that might create regional opportunities for mass transit, Martinez said: "We can't afford a strike now. ... I'm asking ATU to go to work Wednesday, but I'm not going to send them back to the negotiating table blind."

As for the StarTran offer that's actually on the table, "For some employees, health-care costs will go from a few hundred dollars a year to several thousand, all at once," Wyatt said. The union has been trying to negotiate modest wage increases that would help cushion employees from this sudden increase in health-care costs. And, he said, "This last StarTran offer still has new wage tier structures that the employees just cannot accept," including lower starting pay and a longer time frame to reach the highest pay rate. He repeated his accusations that Capital Metro actually wants a strike, saying Crews included those provisions knowing that "no union would actually accept them. We're not the problem. Capital Metro hired someone [Crews] with a history of union-busting."

"It's sad to me that there has to be this conflict," Crews said. "It's bad for us, our employees, and the community." She hotly contested the charges of being a union-buster and accusations by Wyatt that she's inflexible. She noted that of 11 provisions in the new contract to which the union objected, StarTran withdrew seven. "We've shown great movement," she said.

In advance of the strike, Capital Metro president and CEO Fred Gilliam announced that 10 of the transit service's busiest routes would remain in service (see "Rolling Across the Picket Lines," below). "We'll try to focus on core areas where our services are most needed," Gilliam said. He added that no fares will be charged on those routes during a strike and that certain Cap Metro services and routes – such as the UT shuttle service – will not be affected, because they are staffed by contractors other than StarTran. Crews said she had about 100 employees – nonunion or union members willing to cross picket lines – who would continue working and that Capital Metro would initially be operating 70 vehicles as opposed to the normal 246 at the beginning of a weekday.


Rolling Across the Picket Lines

These bus routes will remain in operation during the strike. For full route info, see www.capmetro.org. – L.N.

1L/1M North Lamar/South Congress

3 Burnet Road/Manchaca

7 Duval Street/Dove Springs

10 South First/Red River

17 Cesar Chavez

20 Manor Road/Riverside

37 Colony Park/Windsor Park

101 North Lamar/ South Congress Limited

300 Govalle

331 Oltorf

These routes and services are not operated by StarTran and thus are not affected by the strike:

142 Metric Flyer

214 Lago Vista Feeder

990 Northwest Express (Manor)

UT Shuttles (nonstudents are allowed to ride)

AISD Services

Northwest Dial a Ride (Lago Vista, Jonestown, Leander)

Capital MetroAccess (formerly Special Tran­sit Service) for passengers with disabilities will operate at a reduced service level, 6am-7:30pm on weekdays only. Reservation priority will be given to customers in need of dialysis or urgent medical appointments, followed by riders needing transportation to work or school if resources and capacity allow.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Capital Metro, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1091, Mike Martinez, StarTran, Jay Wyatt

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