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Martinez proposes short-term pact to avoid Cap Metro strike

Monday, November 3, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Austin City Council Member Mike Martinez is making an effort to prevent a strike by Capital Metro drivers this week. The leadership of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1091 announced on Friday their drivers would walk off the job on Wednesday after having worked for the past several months without a contract. However, Martinez, who serves on the Capital Metro board of directors, made a proposal Friday afternoon for the union to accept a short-term deal while the transit agency undergoes an outside audit.


“I’m proposing a two-year stop-gap contract that goes back to July of 2007 that will continue through July of 2009,” Martinez said. “That ends the stalemate we’re in right now. I will ask that we do a full and complete external, independent audit of Capital Metro.”


In addition to preventing a strike, Martinez said, the audit could provide useful financial information. “Once this audit is done, we will have true, definitive, finite information that tells us what the agency is capable of and what it is not capable of leading into the next round of negotiation,” he said. “We did this with the police department. The result of that, in my opinion, was that  it was one of the best negotiating cycles we’ve ever had with the police…with probably the least amount of pay we’ve every put into a deal.”


He predicted the proposed audit could shed light on the agency’s health care costs, which have been a point of contention during negations, and about the long-term financial trends facing the agency as it attempts to keep expenditures from exceeding revenues.


Council Member Brewster McCracken, who also serves on the Capital Metro board, Council Member Laura Morrison, Council Member Lee Leffingwell, State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, and Nelson Linder with the NAACP, joined Martinez in his announcement.


On Saturday, Martinez issued a statement indicating that union leadership was receptive to the idea. “I received word today from Jay Wyatt from ATU, and he informed me that they are ready to get to work, and will bring our stop-gap proposal to their membership and recommend approval in time to avoid a work stoppage,” he said.


However, Martinez does not have the authority to negotiate on behalf of StarTran, the contractor that actually employs the Capital Metro drivers that would participate in a strike. Late Friday, following Martinez’s public announcement, StarTran General Manager Terry Garcia Crews issued a statement that “StarTran is still awaiting a response from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1091 about returning to the negotiating table on Nov. 7…and hopes the union will return to the table and reconsider its decision to strike.”


In the past, union representatives have appeared before the Capital Metro Board soliciting the transit agency’s involvement in contract talks. However, agency officials have replied that it would be improper for Capital Metro to join the discussions, since the agency is not a direct party to the contract. Martinez said on Friday he chose to make his proposal public for both sides to consider in the interest of preventing an interruption of bus service.


“There are no surprises in terms of the two different sides. Everyone’s been briefed on this. The board is fully aware of it, as well as Capital Metro management,” Martinez said. “There is a strike that has been called for. It could cripple this community for days. Once the strike was announced, it’s time for leaders to take action.”

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