Transit workers approve new contract

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Members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005 voted Sunday and Monday to approve a new three-year contract with Metro Transit. The vote was 67 percent in favor, 33 percent opposed, union officials announced.

Just two weeks ago, ATU Local 1005 members voted down a previous contract offer by 53 percent to 47 percent.

The two proposals did not offer significant monetary differences, Local 1005 President Michelle Sommers said, but instead shifted money around to the benefit of some groups of workers. The second proposal offered improved work rules for drivers, she added.

“We’re happy to have it settled,” Sommers said. “Neither side wanted a strike. Neither side got everything they wanted.”

Two years ago, ATU Local 1005 went on strike for 44 days after voting down Metro Transit’s contract offer.

The new contract will offer workers a wage hike of 1 percent beginning Feb. 1, followed by a 1.5 percent increase Feb. 1, 2007, and 2.25 percent on Feb. 1, 2008.

The effective date of the contract will be Aug. 1, 2005, to July 31, 2008.

The contract did not offer workers a retroactive pay increase going back to the July 31, 2005, expiration date of the previous contract. All workers will receive a lump sum payment of $475, however.

Single workers will continue to pay no premium for health insurance.

All workers will have the option of participating in a newly-established Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA). This plan features a high deductible insurance program, under which the employer contributes a specified amount towards individual workers’ HRA accounts. If an employee does not use up the funds during the calendar year, the balance can carry over and grow.

Many employers have been introducing HRAs as a response to the mounting costs of traditional health insurance plans, although critics say HRAs expose workers to greater financial risks.

Sommers said union negotiators worked hard on the terms of the HRA to include employee protections. Employees will be able to choose either the traditional insurance program or the HRA during open enrollment each January.

The ATU Local 1005 Executive Board voted 12 to 6 to recommend that members approve the contract.

Upon exiting the room where members cast their votes today, bus operator Marlin Jensen explained his “no” vote on the contract. “I don’t think there’s enough money in it,” the 17-1/2 year employee said. “There should be more compensation for the employees.”

After voting closed at 5 p.m. Monday, five ATU Local 1005 officers and executive board members sat around a large conference table in the union’s office to conduct the count. They split up the ballots, printed on small blue slips of paper, and grouped them by “yes” or “no” in piles of 10.

Nobody cheered when the tally confirmed that members had approved the contract.

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