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Teamsters OK new contract, declare victory in Sun Tran strike

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Teamsters OK new contract, declare victory in Sun Tran strike

  • Paul Ingram/
  • Union drivers enter the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers hall on South Tucson Boulevard to cast their votes on the contract.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comUnion drivers enter the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers hall on South Tucson Boulevard to cast their votes on the contract.
  • Paul Ingram/
  • Teamsters negotiator Andy Marshall after the vote.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comTeamsters negotiator Andy Marshall after the vote.

With a 351-41 vote, Tucson bus drivers approved a new deal worked out overnight, and will be back behind the wheel on Thursday morning.

It took even more than 40 days and 40 nights, but the union drivers have reached a two-year deal with the private company the manages Sun Tran, voting on it Wednesday afternoon. Teamsters negotiator Andy Marshall said the deal was reached after discussions went until nearly 2 a.m.Wednesday morning.

"Everybody got a raise," and the deal won't add to the current city budget, Marshall said. But he refused to provide details, and it's not clear what impact the contract will have on next year's budget.

"I gave my word that I wouldn't discuss it, and I'm sticking to that," he said.

"Other parties want to poke at it and be pissed off; we don't want to play into that," Marshall said in reference to the leadership of the Tucson Police Officer's Association, who've criticized the drivers' union.

Sun Tran company officials were also mum about the details of the contract.

"I look forward to a productive relationship with the Teamsters membership moving forward and I'm pleased a new contract could be reached," said Kate Riley, the company's local general manager, in an evening press release that didn't detail the agreement. "We recognize how difficult this process has been for all of our passengers and the community, and are happy to operate all 43 routes starting tomorrow."

City officials said they didn't know the details of the settlement, and weren't sure that Sun Tran would be required to disclose them.

"We got as much as we could ... we got a lot of problems addressed," Marshall said in an interview on the John C. Scott radio show during the union meeting. "We stayed within the money that was available."

"We got safety and and health covered ... negotiations on those went down to the last minute," he said as votes were tallied after the meeting.

The city is investigating the cause of mold issues at a Sun Tran facility, and a pilot program will put partitions between drivers and passengers on some routes that have raised concerns about assaults on drivers.

City Manager Michael Ortega "said there wasn't any money beyond what was budgeted, and we respect that," Marshall said.

'This is a victory for self-respect, a victory for collective bargaining' — Teamsters rep

"I'm glad the strike's settled," said City Councilman Paul Cunningham. "But now it's time to open up a conversation about the future of Sun Tran — what sort of model is appropriate, should we turn it over to another agency — so that we don't have a strike again in two years."

Ortega and Cunningham each said that they hadn't been told any of the details of the agreement.

"I'm very happy the strike is over," said Ortega of the labor dispute that took place just a month after he took over the administration of City Hall. "I'm afraid we don't have the details yet."

Ortega said it wasn't clear if Sun Tran was required under their management contract to provide details on the settlement to city officials.

"This strike has devastated the Tucson community and very likely has done irreparable damage to Tucson's transit system," Councilwoman Regina Romero said in an emailed statement Wednesday afternoon.

Concurring with Cunningham, Romero said a discussion of the bus system "should include heightened oversight of Sun Tran management and long-range planning for our transit future."

Marshall said the deal was reached after discussions with management went until 2 a.m. Wednesday.

Union members met in two waves Wednesday afternoon, to give all a chance to review the contract and cast a vote.

"We went through it line-by-line," he said.

Because public employee unions can't strike under Tucson's City Charter, and federal grants are only available to transportation systems that allow full collective bargaining rights, the city contracts out the management of Sun Tran. Professional Transit Management/TransDev is a French-government-owned multinational group that runs transit in some 70 U.S. cities.

The drivers walked off the job 42 days ago, citing safety concerns and mold issues at Sun Tran facilities, but the main sticking point has been wages.

"We had no choice," Marshall said. "We were given a 'firm and final' (offer) that gave nothing over a three-year period."

"This is a victory for self-respect, a victory for collective bargaining," he said.

The mold issues and security improvements were already being worked on Wednesday by management. "That shows good faith; the contract wasn't even approved yet," he said.

Teamsters with Local 104 and representatives of Professional Transit Management traded press releases and at least one pair of contract proposals over the six weeks of the strike, but reportedly did not met face-to-face to discuss a settlement for the first four weeks.

Last week, the Tucson City Council voted to pressure the private management company to roll the funds saved by not running most buses during the strike, as well as savings on lower-than-expected fuel costs this year, into a settlement offer with the union.

Management said they put $2.7 million more on the table, which could be allocated however the union wished. The drivers' representatives had proposed a package that would increase Sun Tran's budget by about $5.5 million.

The city spends about $30 million annually to subsidize the municipal bus system, which is added to revenues from fares. About 66,000 trips are taken each weekday when the system is running normally.

The company has run limited service over the past six weeks, with 14 routes serviced on a limited schedule this week. Normally, Sun Tran has 43 routes.

"I think it's about damn time the buses run," activist Brian Flagg said. "I think this company is a union-breaking company ... they encourage strikes."

At the beginning of August, Sun Tran's 530 drivers, mechanics and fuel island workers voted 363-4 vote to reject a three-year contract that included no raises for most workers. The strike began Aug. 6.

Last August, union members voted to approve a one-year contract, narrowly averting a strike. Sun Tran workers did strike in 1997 and 2001, with the latter job action requiring a federal mediator to resolve the two-week walkout.

Under last year's agreement, workers on the job more than six months and earning less than the top of the wage scale for their positions were to receive a one-time pay bump. The highest paid workers were to receive a combined 50-cent raise over six months.

Before that contract, wages had been frozen for two years by the private firm that operates Tucson's city bus system under a management contract.

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