The Austin American Statesman published the following editorial today regarding contract negotiations between StarTran and ATU Local 1091:
Most private sector workers offered a $1,000 bonus, a 10 percent pay increase over the next three years and excellent health benefits would jump at it. It’s different in the world of public employee unions. Austin’s police union initially asked for nearly 20 percent over four years for its members, already the highest paid in the state. Austin’s teachers’ union wants a 5 percent hike each of the next two years and millions more for health coverage. Both would mean higher taxes for Austin residents who pay for those salaries and benefits.
Now Capital Metro’s union leadership seems to be balking at a proposal for a $1,000 bonus and a 10 percent pay hike over three years. The 825 unionized drivers and mechanics really have to wonder why.
That’s the same leadership that called a disastrous strike while Austin housed thousands of Hurricane Katrina evacuees who needed mass transit, the same leadership that has kept workers without a contract for more than a year.
Capital Metro is offering a solid contract in a difficult economic time. Management is asking for employees to pay slightly more in heath benefits, but no more than non-union employees pay. Capital Metro’s union employees will still have the best health care plan around for public employees, better than the City of Austin’s plan and the state’s.
One legitimate concern that should be on the table for discussion is that the proposed contract appears to allow Capital Metro to reduce the health care plan without union approval. Health care is too important to allow it to be changed during the contract period without membership approval.
Capital Metro Board Member Mike Martinez is also an Austin City Council Member intimate with both sides of union negotiations. He’s a former head of the city’s firefighters union now on the other side of the bargaining table representing taxpayers.
Martinez said the contract offer is a good one, and if the health care issue can be worked out, union members should OK it. The 10 percent pay increase, he noted, is higher than growth in the sales tax that funds Capital Metro. It’s also more than the city is offering its employees. “It has to be acknowledged that this is a good proposal,” he said.
Capital Metro’s bus drivers are the highest paid in Texas and among the highest paid in the country. New drivers will start at more than $12 an hour and reach $20 an hour after six years. The top salary, with overtime, approached $90,000 last year.
Martinez is optimistic that, with some tweaking, the contract will be acceptable to union members, who vote on it Aug. 20. It should be.
In these dark economic times, there is no good reason for union members to reject Capital Metro’s proposal, and thousands of dollars worth of good reasons to ratify it.