How Phoenix bus drivers without a service contract could affect you
Amid rising tensions, the Amalgamated Transit Union and Veolia Transportation continue contract negotiations while the fate of Phoenix public bus passengers remains unknown.
By Jeremy Knop
PHOENIX – For the last nine months, Veolia Transportation has been in contract negotiations with their bus driver employees who are represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union Local #1433. So far, all negotiations have been unsuccessful. If an agreement is not reached soon bus drivers could go on strike—reducing service throughout the Phoenix area.
If bus drivers were to go on strike, wait times in between bus arrivals would increase for passengers on all Phoenix routes. And some routes may be forced to shut down. According to the city of Phoenix website, routes that would definitely not be in operation during a strike are: DASH – Government Loop – Business Circulator (Downtown Phoenix), SMART (Sunnyslope) – Neighborhood Circulator, and Rt. 581 – N. Mountain Express.
Many bus drivers do not want to have to go on strike. Sebastian Aldama, a 20-year Veolia employee said, "We're out here because of the passengers, our customers. A majority of the people who use our buses are people in need. They depend on us. We want the public to know we're not interested in a strike. We're interested in continuing negotiations."
With no contract currently in place, Veolia and the city of Phoenix need to be prepared to meet city's needs. Veolia's contract with the city of Phoenix states that they must meet a minimum service level of 60 percent during a strike or any other emergency according to section 25 of Veolia's contract with the city.
Under the same section, Veolia would have seven calendar days to deliver a plan of action to Phoenix transit officials detailing a course of action to return to a 60 percent level of service should service levels fall below that mark. After detailing their course of action to Phoenix transit officials, Veolia would have another 15 calendar days to return service levels back to normal. If Veolia's course of action did not work, transit officials would give 24-hour notice to Veolia for failure to comply and bring in a replacement contractor.
In preparation for emergencies like a work stoppage, the city of Phoenix and Veolia have devised three separate service level scenarios for Veolia to follow. The three plans cover route operation at a 60 percent level of service, 45 percent level of service and a 30 percent level of service as a worst-case scenario. The three separate plans were put in place in case Veolia is not able to maintain the 60 percent minimum level of service stated in their contract.
The city of Phoenix Public Transit Department, along with other cities in the Valley, use private companies like Veolia Transportation to operate their bus routes. The bus drivers are all employees of Veolia.
The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local #1433 is the union representing all Veolia employed bus drivers operating in the Phoenix area. Two other separate unions represent Veolia employees who maintain, fuel, and clean the buses. The ATU represents 633 bus driver employees. Veolia operates 33 of the Valley's 99 bus routes and carries about 44 percent of the Valley's public bus passengers according to statistics obtained from Valley Metro. Phoenix awarded Veolia the five-year contract, worth $388 million, in June 2010. Phoenix is not involved in labor negotiations because Veolia, not the city, employs the drivers.
The dispute between Veolia and the ATU consists of three main areas:
- 2-Tier Wage Structure: Veolia would like to establish a lower second wage tier for new hires. The ATU does not want a second tier.
- Health Care Costs: Veolia is requesting that ATU members contribute to their health care costs. Under the previous contract, ATU members paid nothing for health care. They had 100 percent coverage.
- Sick Leave Accrual: Veolia would like to cap sick leave accrual at 35 days. Under the previous contract, the cap was 144 days for ATU members. The ATU is proposing a new, lower cap, of 66 days.
ATU President Bob Bean said Veolia is trying to get them to accept a new two-tier pay scale, reduced benefits with increased costs, less sick time and less vacation time. Veolia's public information officer, Valerie Michael, agreed that they are trying to negotiate a two-tier pay scale but that it would only affect new employees. For these new employees, their starting salary be lower and their salary cap would be about 80 percent of the existing salary cap of current employees.
Regarding sick leave, Michael said they are trying to re-negotiate the accrual rate of sick days. Under the old contract with the city, all employees were allowed to accrue sick days that rolled over year after year up to a maximum of 144 days. “The average amount of days that workers have accumulated right now under the city contract is about 42 days. What Veolia is proposing is a cap at 35 days, which is something that is already in affect company wide. Michael said it is also important to note that the proposed plan doesn’t take days away from drivers if they currently have over 35 days accrued. For employees in that position, the 35-day cap would not go into effect until they used their extra days and dropped below the proposed cap.
The timeline represents the progress of negotiations. Click the icons to view more information about each date.