Arbitration panel mostly denies pay hikes for C-Tran workers

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

Published:

Updated: May 14, 2012, 6:18 PM

 

An arbitration panel last week finalized C-Tran’s latest contract with its largest employee group, ending a contentious bargaining process that began two years ago.

But with only a few months left in the new agreement, both sides figure to be right back at the negotiating table this summer.

In a 26-page ruling, the panel led by arbitrator Timothy Williams detailed a contract that gives some victories to both parties. But on the key issues of pay and overtime, the panel appeared to side mostly with C-Tran.

The panel awarded C-Tran’s represented bus operators a 2 percent raise starting July 1, for the remainder of the contract. But because the agreement began retroactively on Sept. 1, 2010, the pay increase is only guaranteed for two months before the contract expires again Aug. 31.

Bus operators, represented by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757, had asked for the raises to apply retroactively to 2010. The union argued that C-Tran’s relatively healthy reserves were more than enough to pay for its “modest and well-justified” proposals, according to the panel’s report. C-Tran argued the pay raises weren’t justified in a time of economic distress.

Local 757's operators represent more than half of C-Tran’s approximately 380 employees.

The union had also asked for a new “longevity pay” provision that would have given operators who have worked for C-Tran at least 20 years an extra 45 cents per hour. The arbitration panel denied that proposal, saying C-Tran’s financial condition didn’t warrant such a move. It also denied a union request to change the way overtime is paid out.

Represented fixed-route drivers earn anywhere from $18.08 to $23.79 per hour, or about $37,600 to $49,500 annually based on a 40-hour workweek.

On vacation and salary scale, the panel sided with the union. Union representatives had proposed aligning fixed-route drivers’ benefits with C-Tran’s represented paratransit drivers. The arbitration panel agreed, but only for full-time employees. The result will give paratransit workers more vacation time and a faster pay progression.

C-Tran and its operators began the process of hammering out a new contract in 2010. C-Tran and union leaders spent months negotiating before moving to mediation and eventually arbitration — a first for the agency and its operators.

In an email, C-Tran Executive Director Jeff Hamm praised the agency’s employees, but said the panel’s decision reflects economic realities.

“It was never C-Tran’s intention to go down the path of arbitration, yet we believe the ruling confirms that the fiscally responsible actions C-Tran has implemented were necessary due to serious financial challenges faced by the agency,” Hamm said. “It is also noteworthy that throughout the long arbitration process C-Tran represented staff performed their jobs professionally, day in and day out.”

The ruling settles C-Tran’s largest employee contract, but doesn’t resolve overall labor strife within the agency. Three other employee groups remain in negotiations, some working on expired contracts. Another reached an agreement last fall.

It’s unclear what impact the operators’ new contract will have on the still-unsettled contracts. Their discussions revolve around many of the same issues. But different groups will work through their own processes, said ATU executive board officer Roy Jennings.

“Some things do carry over, but each contract is negotiated independently,” Jennings said.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro;eric.florip@columbian.com.