Cap Metro: A Couple Years of Labor Peace?

McDonald Transit and Amalgamated Transit Union reach an agreement

From an ATU rally in 2011
From an ATU rally in 2011 (Photo by John Anderson)

On March 6, Capital Metro and McDonald Transit announced a contract agreement between major subcontractor McDonald and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1091, the drivers and mechanics union. The new contract, effective through September of 2015, includes an immediate 2.1% wage hike (effective Feb. 17, and the first increase since 2011), with additional 2.1% raises scheduled for October of 2013 and 2014. The contract also requires higher health care contributions from workers, and slows step-pay increases for employees hired after Aug. 19 of this year – meaning it will now take seven years, instead of five, for new employees to reach the top pay grades. According to ATU Local 1091 President Jay Wyatt, 91% of the members who voted approved the agreement. In addition to the annual wage increases, the terms also specify that future insurance increases be shared by management and employees.

Asked last week for his judgment of the settlement, Wyatt said, "Let's put it this way: We didn't take as much of a hit as we could have taken. When I look at where it first started out – Capital Metro was trying to push these two tiers, where they lowered people's wages at the top. We were able to extend the progression time to top wage from five years to seven, and that was a compromise. Only difference, it will take people seven years to make top wage, versus five years. That's something I'm not happy about, but I'm okay with." Wyatt said that future health insurance adjustments will be subject to a management/union committee, but even with the additional contributions, the wage increases will be beneficial; Wyatt described the 2.1% increases as comparable with current nationwide labor agreements.

Cap Metro subcontractor McDonald employs approximately 600 union drivers and mechanics, an arrangement imposed on the quasi-state agency by state law prohibiting direct union contracts; in order contract directly with Capital Metro, ATU 1091 would have to surrender its right to strike. Last August, McDonald assumed management of 70% of the Cap Metro routes and entered into negotiations with the union; in November, a union vote authorized a strike, which Wyatt described as imminent – but no strike call ever came. According to Wyatt, the threat of a strike was real, but he came to believe Cap Metro was "pushing for a strike. ... And I ain't no fool – I'm not going to go in that direction if I know you want it so bad."

In a press release, McDonald General Manager Steve Keiper described the agreement as "fair to both sides and, most importantly, taxpayers who support our work with their tax dollars." Capital Metro CEO/President Linda Watson applauded the agreement, called the employees "the lifeblood of the agency," and described the agreement as ensuring "quality bus service without interruption [and] achieving agency goals from the very outset: to provide transparency to our labor structure; to ensure the long-term financial sustainability of the agency; and to treat our employees fairly."

Cap Metro board chair and City Council Member Mike Martinez, who has been the target of harsh union criticism for his role in the transition to private subcontractors, added his congratulations. "My number one priority in ensuring a smooth transition," Martinez said, "was to protect our bus operators and maintenance employees by being fair and responsible, and maintaining the quality of life for transitioning employees. That's why we developed and included core terms as part of the procurement requirements that would protect employees' wages and benefits. It's great to hear that the finalized collective bargaining agreement had such broad support from the union membership."

Negotiations resume next month with Dallas-based MV Transportation, which manages Cap Metro's paratransit routes. Wyatt said those discussions, which also began last year, have stalled over lack of progress on economic issues. Additional contracts cover routes managed by First Transit and Veolia Transportation, and Wyatt argues that "splitting up these contracts like Capital Metro did was really an effort to bust the union." He insists, despite continuing Cap Metro denials, that the McDonald negotiations were controlled behind the scenes by the agency. "Let's be clear about something: There is no division between Capital Metro and McDonald," Wyatt said. "They're all one. Capital Metro still micromanages this company to the max. ... Capital Metro is still entrenched. They were deeply involved in these negotiations with McDonald – they know everything that was going on from every moment."

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