Check out Sunday’s editorial in the Austin American-Statesman:
Capital Metro on right deal track
Sunday, August 28, 2011
If Capital Metro is going to become financially solvent and provide better transit services to Central Texas communities, then labor and management are going to have to work together. That requires compromise.
We believe the proposed terms the Capital Metro board is offering in its move to hire an outside contractor to run bus services strike the right balance for all parties. Monday approval by the board is likely.
The proposal does not give the labor union everything it is demanding, but it does treat bus drivers and others who are affected fairly, by requiring private contractors to continue a good wage and benefit system. The proposal by Capital Metro goes in the right direction, and now it’s time for the labor union to show good faith by moving toward a compromise.
The wild card in this scenario is the federal government, which will decide whether Capital Metro’s push to change the current structure of the labor agreement is legal as it transitions to one or more outside private contractors.
The union has put its eggs in that basket, saying Capital Metro’s proposal falls short of what federal law stipulates. It has dug in and that has not helped employee morale.
There are real consequences for the public while the stalemate continues: Failure of both sides to reach an agreement puts at risk millions of dollars in federal funds Capital Metro needs, and likely would get, to improve transit services. Also, Capital Metro officials told us the cash-strapped agency might have to cut transit services to the public if an outside contractor had to adopt the current labor agreement as-is.
Lawmakers passed a bill this spring requiring Capital Metro to bring all its workers in-house or competitively bid all bus services with private contractors. The deadline to get that done is Sept. 1, 2012, The goal was to force the agency to save money in labor costs by using private contractors to run bus services.
The proposed terms would be part of a labor framework the agency is requiring of contractors bidding for Capital Metro’s bus service business.
Those terms would reduce Capital Metro’s costs by as much as $40 million between now and 2020, agency officials told us. At the same time, those terms do offer some stability and protection to workers.
They require that contractors hire all current workers who want jobs — so no employees should lose jobs in the transition to an outside private contractor. The terms also require contractors to hire employees at existing wages — so employees don’t lose ground on that front. The terms would give workers comparable health coverage, although workers might have to pay more in premiums or co-pays. Contractors also would have to honor accrued pension benefits and recognize the existing union, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1091, as the representative for collective bargaining for bus drivers and mechanics.
Even if the labor union wins the legal fight at the federal level, it is likely to lose community support and confidence because the costs for continuing business as usual are too high. About $2.6 million of potential federal funding, money the agency plans to use for buses for its services for people with disabilities, could be lost or delayed. The union can object to the grants based on its argument that the terms Capital Metro is proposing violate federal law. And there are trade-offs; the more the agency spends on labor costs, the less it has to spend on improving service for customers.
In working toward a solution, both parties should move toward a compromise that offers workers good pay and benefits while lowering Capital Metro’s overall operating costs. The terms Capital Metro is proposing achieve that goal.