The following editorial is running in Wednesday’s Austin American-Statesman:
Transit Strike Will Hurt Riders and the Union
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Union leaders at Capital Metro aren’t doing their membership or the city any good by ordering a strike today. A strike is only going to make more people furious at the bus drivers, as riders were after the one-day strike three years ago.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1091 has snubbed Capital Metro bargaining agent StarTran’s offer of a $1,000 bonus and a 10 percent pay increase over the next three years. The union did grudgingly accept a change in health care coverage that places union workers under a plan similar to the one that covers nonunion workers and top executives.
Thousands of people who depend on Capital Metro to get them to work, the doctor’s office and around town can’t understand the union’s resistance to a good contract offer or its determination to strike. The union wants a retroactive pay increase for last year rather than a one-time bonus payment and is willing to disrupt the city’s transportation system to get it.
Austin City Council Member Mike Martinez, also a member of Capital Metro’s board of directors, offered a compromise plan late in the negotiations. He proposed a 3 percent raise for last year and a 2.5 percent increase this year. Martinez also suggests an independent audit to provide revenue and expense numbers that both sides agree upon.
StarTran General Manager Terry Garcia Crews said what Martinez proposed for two years would cost as much as the company has budgeted for a four-year contract. And it sends everyone back to the bargaining table in only eight months. “The workforce needs stability,” she said.
Like other public entities, Capital Metro has been hit with unexpected expenses in a cataclysmic economic downturn. First came $4 a gallon gasoline, then a collapsing economy that hits the transit company square in the pocket book.
Cap Metro is underpinned by a 1-cent sales tax that provides most of its $185 million annual budget. But the reeling economy has reduced the sales tax by about 3 percent from last year’s numbers.
No one doubts that the union has bargained in good faith, but economic reality must be interjected into the contract discussions, too. These are hard times, and Capital Metro, through StarTran, is trying to manage its finances and still offer a good contract.
Capital Metro’s drivers and mechanics are among the best-paid in Texas, and their health care plan — even after the changes offered in the contract — is the best of any public entity in the region.
Union members found out in 2005 that a strike can shatter good relations with the public for years. That work stoppage occurred as a hurricane hit Texas and thousands of evacuees descended on Austin. This month is an even worse time to use a strike to gain public sympathy