Sunday, June 25, 2017 This Week's Paper

Pierce Transit signs deal with drivers

A tentative deal has been approved by Pierce Transit and Amalgamated Transit Union Local #758 negotiators that has no wage increases for the bus drivers and redesigns medical and dental benefit plans over a three-year labor contract that is meant to control health care costs.

“Whether driving a bus, answering customer service calls, working in maintenance, or any of the many other critical jobs at Pierce Transit, our ATU members are highly skilled professionals, proud of their public service,” said union local President Don McKnight. “This agreement is about saving jobs, not just the jobs of Pierce Transit employees, but the tens of thousands who rely on the vital service that our members provide every day.”

Union negotiators intentionally agreed to a three-year contract to show the community and transit officials that they are willing to think long term when it comes to improving the agency and its services, McKnight said, noting that just agreeing to a one- or two-year deal could have been perceived as a stalling tactic for bigger payoffs when the economy improves.

“It was never about that,” he said. “The membership has always been sensitive to the economics of this.”

One bundle of workplace conditions such as overtime policies the agency wanted to change, for example, has been taken off the table and cleared the way for a deal, he said.

“We need to get Pierce Transit back to what it once was,” McKnight said. “It needs to get out there and serve the public.”

News of the deal comes after Pierce Transit officials announced a stalemate after meeting with union negotiators more than 20 times since May, and called in federal mediators to begin “interest arbitration” with the Public Employees Relations Commission. That can be a drawn-out process because it involves juggling schedules of transit officials and union leaders as well as the federal regulators to present proposals before a final deal can be determined. State law does not allow transit workers to go on strike. A decision by the arbitrator is binding.

“I am very grateful ATU Local #758 leadership came back to the bargaining table,” said Lynne Griffith, Pierce Transit CEO. “As everyone continues to navigate through difficult economic conditions, it’s important for the public to recognize that we understand their expectations for keeping down costs and maintaining the best service possible. This tentative agreement reflects what we’ve heard from the community and our Board of Commissioners.”

A vote to ratify the tentative agreement by ATU Local #758 members will take place Aug. 29. ATU Local #758 represents some 708 Pierce Transit employees.

The labor dispute comes at a tough time for the agency, following almost a year of sales tax revenue coming in less than budgeted and a ballot measure set for November. The union had wanted a 1.5 percent pay raise this year and a 2 percent increase next year as well as concessions on health care premium costs. The transit agency will look for ways to control its costs by reviewing benefits, while the union members will split any increases in premiums if they increase more than 10 percent a year during the life of the contract.

“It will be several years to get to where we need to be,” Griffith said.

Voters will face a decision on a sales tax increase of three-tenths of 1 percent in November. The increase is expected to raise $28 million a year, if approved by voters. It would increase annual service hours from 417,000 to 580,000, within a smaller geographic area than before, after several areas in East Pierce County opted out of the bus service area all together. The added tax would also raise $7 million for new buses within a year.

"As the Pierce Transit representative for the citizens of Fife, Milton and Edgewood, I am glad to hear the hard working men and women at Pierce Transit will get to vote on a contract,” Fife City Councilmember Glenn Hull said. “Future growth in our three cities will demand an active transit system. This contract and upcoming November ballot measure to increase revenue by 3 cents per $10 spent in our communities means the difference between having a transit system or not.”