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Capital Metro bus drivers, mechanics agree to contract

Thursday, November 13, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union voted 289 to 44 on Wednesday to ratify a contract proposal from StarTran. The deal means drivers and mechanics for Capital Metro will have a contract through 2011. While union President Jay Wyatt said the employees did not get everything they wanted in the deal, he was relieved that the strike and negotiations were over.


“You’re always happy to get out of a fight,” Wyatt said. “A lot of the employees were upset that they didn’t get retroactive pay back to 2007. They didn’t want to see the insurance change. But it was the best we could do under the circumstances.”


The contract will include a three percent pay hike for each of the next three years. The union had also been seeking a retroactive pay raise dating back to the middle of 2007, when the previous contract ended, but instead employees will receive a bonus payment of $1,200.


Although the contract is a four-year agreement, the starting date will be listed as July of 2007, when the previous contract expired. That means the current deal will run until 2011. On the other major sticking point of health care costs, employees will face deductibles for their health care, which will increase their out-of-pocket expenses. However, those deductibles will be phased in through the term of the contract.


Wyatt said the union had been successful on one major sticking point. He said StarTran had proposed switching from the traditional collective bargaining process to the meet-and-confer system used by the Austin Police Association. That proposal, he said, was rejected by the union and was not in the final document.


“This negotiation was a nightmare. It’s the worst we’ve ever been in,” Wyatt said of the 18-month process. The final agreement was worked out Friday evening after State Senator Kirk Watson was brought in to mediate. Wyatt also said that the strike called by ATU on Wednesday of last week played a major role in bringing the talks to a conclusion.


“I think our strike was successful, whether Capital Metro will admit it or not. The majority of our members stuck together and stood up against Capital Metro. It’s like going up against a bear with a toothpick,” the longtime union chief said.


Wyatt hopes that officials with Capital Metro will follow through on a suggestion made by Austin City Council Member Mike Martinez. He had urged both sides to agree to a short-term contract while Capital Metro ordered a comprehensive outside audit. While StarTran rejected the proposed short-term deal, Wyatt would still like to see an audit. “The taxpayers need to know how their money is being spent. I think they have not been honest, open, and transparent with the public,” he said. “The board is not the only one that can order the audit. The Legislature can also order an audit.”

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