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Rejecting Cap Metro offer, bus drivers may strike soon

Tuesday, October 28, 2008 by Mark Richardson

Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union have voted by a decisive margin to reject Capital Metro’s final contract offer, setting up the possibility that bus drivers and mechanics could go out on strike as early as this weekend.


Union officials say they will announce a possible strike date on Friday, while Capital Metro/StarTran officials say they have a contingency plan to keep about half of the buses running if there is a walkout.


ATU Local 1091 President Jay Wyatt said Monday that union members voted 390 to 57 to reject the latest offer from management. He sent a letter to Capital Metro officials Monday asking them to come back to the bargaining table.


“They are the ones who want a strike,” Wyatt said. “They continue to put offers on the table that they know we cannot accept.” Union members voted a month ago to give their leadership the right to call a strike. ATU members have been working without a contract since 2007.


Terry Garcia Crews, manager of Star Tran, said the two sides were in agreement on seven of 11 major negotiating points. Star Tran is a Capital Metro subsidiary that manages the majority of bus drivers and mechanics.


“Currently, we are offering a $1,000 signing bonus for the year 2007, which is already past,” she said. “Then we are offering 3 percent in 2008, 3 percent in 2009 and 3.25 percent in the final year. Right now we are about $4 million apart on the remaining issues.”


Those issues include additional retroactive pay, the cost of healthcare, and other financial items. One sore point with the union is that newly hired drivers would have a lower pay scale than those currently employed. That could ultimately drive a wedge between new drivers and older ones and harm the union.


Crews said a federal mediator would sit down with the parties at their next bargaining session.


Kerri Davidson with Capital Metro said the agency has had a contingency plan in place for several weeks that would cover about 45 percent of the agency’s core routes on the first day of a walkout.


She reported to the Board of Directors on Monday that the plan is designed to cover 10 core bus routes from 6am to 7pm on the first day of a walkout.


“We are going to provide the best service we can with what is available to us,” Davidson said. “We are going to have employees and administrators working to keep the buses running as much as possible.”


She said Capital Metro’s other contractors – which would not be affected by a strike — had agreed to pitch in with drivers and mechanics. The University of Texas shuttle system, also not affected by a walkout, would also be available to all Capital Metro customers. No fares would be charged during a strike.


Davidson also said that special preparations were being made for the Metro Access service that serves handicapped customers.


Davidson said she expects that as the strike goes on, more personnel would begin showing up for work and bus routes would be expanded accordingly. She said they expect to ramp up to close to full service after 7 to 10 days.


Crews said that it would be in ATU’s best interest to come to the bargaining table and make an agreement. She said contractors and other who help staff bus routes during a strike would get first crack at the jobs.


“There is a risk that some StarTran workers may not have jobs to come back to, even if we reach a settlement,” she said.


Neither ATU nor StarTran would say when the next negotiating session might take place.

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