Friday, May 29, 2015 by Courtney Griffin

CapMetro awards $256 million contract

The Capital Metro board of trustees decided at its regular meeting to swap service contractors for a portion of its bus routes Wednesday, despite employee concerns.

Board members unanimously approved a $256 million contract with Dallas-based MV Transportation that could potentially stretch to nine years.

Starting Sept. 31, the new company will oversee the operation and maintenance of the University of Texas shuttle routes, MetroRapid routes and several other bus routes. The contract guarantees that the company will manage routes for at least three years with two separate three-year extension options.

The change, however, did not sit well with nearly a dozen bus drivers and maintenance workers who are employed by First Transit, the current contractor. They and other members of Amalgamated Transit Union, a local transportation union in Austin, testified during public comment in support of keeping their current boss.

“I’ve worked for different companies that held the contract, but with this company that I’ve worked with now … it’s the best company I’ve worked with so far,” said Victor Chapa, a 20-year mechanic on the First Transit, UT Shuttle contract. Many First Transit employees said the local management team creates a “family” atmosphere in which laborers are respected and treated well. Joneth “Jay” Wyatt, union president, said First Transit employs more than 220 people in Austin.

Although unions are banned in Texas, federal law provides a preservation clause for Texas’ transportation workers because CapMetro receives federal funding, said Dottie Watkins, CapMetro’s vice president of bus and paratransit services.

For this reason, she explained, CapMetro hires private contractors so that union members can keep their collective bargaining rights. CapMetro remains in line with state law because the workers are not technically public employees, she said.

As a result of that system, Wyatt said, union members are usually very concerned about the transition from one contractor to another. Due to different managerial styles, a contractor might make changes in wages and benefits or take a more disciplinary approach with workers, causing higher turnover.

Wyatt said the union currently has an agreement with First Transit set to go into effect June 1. It starts new bus drivers at $13.69 per hour and increases their rates to $14.75 by 2018 to help accommodate Austin’s rising cost of living, he said.

Employees are concerned that the new contractor will not honor the agreement, Wyatt continued. CapMetro’s request for proposal specified that a new contractor is under no obligation to honor previous collective bargaining agreements, or CBAs.

Watkins admitted to the Austin Monitor that the CapMetro board does not have any “teeth” in the matter. If a new contractor decides to veer from a previous CBA, she said, the board can get involved only if there is a change in the quality of services.

Watkins said staff recommended MV Transportation after a lengthy vetting process that scored proposals technically and financially.

“MV proposed easily the most experienced management team of all the management teams that we interviewed, and in our evaluation factors, the capabilities of the management team is the most important factor,” Watkins explained.

First Transit’s bid was cheaper, but it did not have the management experience, she said.

Doug Gies, president of MV Transportation’s Southwest Group, told board members that the company’s pricing budget is based on the current First Transit agreement. He later clarified to the Monitor that he was referring to the June 1 agreement that extends until May 2019.

“It will be my belief the drivers will not go backwards,” Gies told board members. “As a company, we would like to sit down with them and work a new CBA out (in the future).”

New Capital Metro MetroBus, July 2012” by Jsevse Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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Capital Metro: The city’s urban transportation system.

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