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Update: $4.3M Sun Tran deal: Up to $5/hr. raises for some workers
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Update: $4.3M Sun Tran deal: Up to $5/hr. raises for some workers

$500k net increase in ongoing cost of bus system

  • Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com
  • Teamsters negotiator Andy Marshall after the vote on Wednesday.
    Teamsters negotiator Andy Marshall after the vote on Wednesday.

The settlement that ended the Sun Tran strike will mean raises of 30 cents to $5 per hour for bus drivers and mechanics, union reps said. The private management company and the Teamsters had earlier declined to reveal details of the $4.36 million deal that ended the 42-day strike.

Two members of the City Council called the lack of details available to them and the public "inexcusable."

The deal, which covers two years, is $1.6 million more than the proposed contract that was rejected by workers last month. The settlement will mean ongoing costs of about $1.4 million annually after the two years are up, City Manager Michael Ortega said. That projection is about $500,000 more than what management had forecast for fiscal year 2018, he said. Sun Tran's total budget is about $103 million yearly.

The increase was offset by about $790,000 in savings due to fuel prices being lower than projected, and about $800,000 unspent because of buses not running and drivers not being paid during the strike, Ortega said.

Ortega also proposed that workers and management split any funds they can save through instituting operational efficiencies, including suggestions from the union on ways to streamline maintenance. Half those savings could go to increase pay, with half going back into the city's general fund to offset the net budget increase of $500,000 projected under the deal.

The contract was ratified by the union with a 351-41 vote on Wednesday.

Under the deal, Sun Tran's union workers will each receive a pay bump between 30 cents and $5 hourly, Teamsters negotiator Andy Marshall said. He didn't breakdown the distribution of the raises. The deal also provides for workers to receive bonuses or additional pension contributions if the system saves money due to operating efficiencies over the next two years.

In addition, each worker will receive a $3,303.37 lump-sum payment within a week of the settlement, Marshall said in a news release Friday morning.

Those payments, spread among Sun Tran's 530-some workers, would total about $1.7 million of the deal.

In addition, the city will tackle dealing with a mold problem at a Sun Tran facility, and install Plexiglass partitions on buses used on routes that drivers consider the most dangerous.

City Councilmen Paul Cunningham and Steve Kozachik issued a joint statement Friday afternoon, calling on the contractor that runs the system, Professional Transit Management, and the union to release the entire contract.

"Taxpayers deserve to see how their hard-earned money is being spent. The terms of the settlement should have been posted online by both TransDev and the Teamsters immediately following ratification. Now, two days later, the public is still waiting," the pair wrote. "It is inexcusable for the parties to this settlement to refuse making the precise terms of the settlement public."

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 Wednesday evening, but at the time declined to provide further details.

"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 Wednesday.

"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."

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

"I'm glad the strike's settled," said City Councilman Paul Cunningham on Wednesday night. "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," Ortega said Wednesday 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 citing safety concerns and mold issues at Sun Tran facilities, but the main sticking point in the 42-day strike was 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 Wednesday.

The mold issues and security improvements were already being worked on Wednesday by management and the city. "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 ran limited service over the past six weeks, with 14 routes serviced on a limited schedule earlier 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.

Sun Tran budget

The 4.36 million settlement amounts to a faction of the city bus system's total budget, which is about $103 million yearly. About 40 percent is paid by the city, with a third coming from federal grants and the balance coming from fares and the Regional Transportation Authority.

City manager's summary

A copy of a memo outlining the city's assessment of the settlement, sent to the mayor and members of the City Council on Friday by City Manager Michael Ortega:

As you are aware, PTM and the Teamsters leadership reached agreement Wednesday morning and the Teamsters' members voted to accept the agreement later that day. I know there is much speculation about the terms of their agreement and although I was not involved in the actual negotiations nor have I seen the specific terms, I thought I would outline for you the global parameters of the agreement as I understand them. I also want to share with you what I conveyed to both groups as a result of your direction on Sept 9. Your fundamental direction was basically to make sure it was clear to PTM that all available savings and budgeted money was to be placed on the table and that PTM was to negotiate in good faith in carrying out its responsibilities under its contract with the City Of Tucson. Based on this, following are the global parameters of the agreement as I understand them, and the input I conveyed to the negotiating parties:

1. All available money on the table: PTM had included $2.7M in the Sun Tran budget over three years for personnel cost increases for pension, health care, and some wage adjustments for lower paid staff to address turnover. In addition approximately $790k was identified in projected fuel savings through the rest of this fiscal year. Another $800k (net) was estimated to be saved through the six week strike period. Hence, there was a budgeted total available for discussion of approximately $4.3M. This included the annual ongoing personnel cost of $900k.

The final outcome was a two-year contract for $4.3M, with ongoing costs going into the third year of $1.4M. The ongoing costs will be greater than was projected by PTM for FY 18 by $500k.

2. Cost savings and Efficiency savings: I challenged both PTM and the Teamsters to be creative and look within the current Sun Tran budget for additional monies. My challenge to them was based on my discussions with the Teamsters where they outlined what appeared to be several areas where efficiencies could be realized along with corresponding savings.

My thought is to share 50% with staff on any net savings they and management, working together, develop during the year. The other 50% would remain in the City's General Fund and help to cover ongoing Sun Tran costs (the additional $500k in FY 18) as well as help offset future GF shortfalls.

The Teamsters expressed concern about one time payments vs. base salary adjustments. While recognizing that I could not dictate the course of the negotiations, I suggested that the Teamsters consider an agreement under which a portion of the net savings could be distributed as lump sum or added to base salary if it was distributed over three years. They also wanted to include Sun Tran employees not a part of the Teamsters in their calculations. I expressed support for this since it is the team that will develop the savings and the entire team should share in the distributions.

I have not seen the actual agreement so I cannot share with you the configuration of how PTM and the Teamsters ultimately agreed to distribute the ongoing costs nor am I sure how they included language about sharing in cost savings measures.

3. Mold in facility: I have been informed that PTM and City staff have been working together to address the mold situation for some time. They believe they have a solution, but I will personally visit the facility and have them walk me through how a mold problem might have developed in a relatively new facility and exactly what we have done to fix it. My intent is to get to the bottom of what caused this situation and address it as appropriate.

4. Safety of operators: There seemed to be two parts to this issue. First is protection of the operators and second was the way follow up occurred with the operators after an assault. I have asked staff to develop a pilot program where the operators are engaged in determining which routes need immediate attention. The intent is to install some sort of safety partition on some buses and get feedback from the operators. Depending on the feedback, we may expand the installation of partitions.

Another issue that was brought to my attention was the disabling of emergency call buttons. Apparently there were issues with them and they were disabled. I have directed staff to address this and reactivate these as quickly as possible. My understanding is that we have gone to a new system which should help with some of the issues we had with the way the previous ones were used/installed.

The staff was concerned about the apparent lack of follow up once an assault occurs. Specifically, the operators have difficulty obtaining police reports and other documentation so they can pursue the case on their own. They also expressed concern over the people committing the assault not being arrested through a custodial arrest, but cited and released. I explained to them that the decision whether to make a custodial arrest or to cite and release is really a policy issue based on the type of crime, but I committed to follow up with the Chief. With regard to obtaining reports, I will also follow up with the Chief and Victim Witness.

Based on the innovation of the cost savings program, I am comfortable that we will be able to absorb the increase in ongoing cost of $500k, but more importantly I believe this demonstrates that we are all in this together. We need to approach Transit as a team, not independent parts. While I do not yet have a feel for the cost involved in fixing the mold issue and installing the safety partitions, I know we have some facility and vehicle improvement money set aside.

Thank you for your patience on this effort. I hope this note can be used to educate your constituencies about the global parameters associated with the agreement that has ended the strike. As always, please feel free to contact me individually if you have any questions or would like to discuss this matter in more detail. Thanks…

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