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Transit Union sets strike date

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The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1395 which represents all bargaining unit employees of Escambia County Area Transit and Pensacola Bay Transportation, Inc. voted last week unanimously to allow the Executive Board of the Local Union to schedule a strike date. After careful review and in good faith the Union Executive Board has chosen Monday, October 21, 2013 as the set date for a strike. It is the Union attempt to keep our riders informed well in advance of our intent. But it is our goal to reach a settlement well prior to the scheduled strike date with the employers and the Board of County Commissioners, Escambia County, Florida.

The workers which are made up of approximately 85 Escambia County Area Transit employees and 55 Pensacola Bay Transportation employees in Escambia County and Santa Rosa County have had expired labor contracts since 2010. Both properties have been in negotiations with the employers since the summer of 2010. ECAT workers which are made up of Bus Operators, Trolley Operators, Mechanics, Utility Cleaners, Bus Cleaners, and Customer Service Associate Representatives went on strike for 1 day on September 21, 2011 on the former employer Veolia Transportation for problems with Management staff mistreatment and no labor agreement. After just one day the Union came off the strike line and began a campaign against the former employer, noting the fact that the Board of County Commissioners was contracting out the fixed route service to a foreign company. Veolia Transportation which is a French company managed the ECAT bus service since 2004. The Union had over 5000 signatures of citizens opposing the fact that their tax dollars were not only being shipped out of the County, but the Country.

In April 2012 another foreign based Company, First Transit / First Group took over as the management team of ECAT. First Transit / First Group is based out of the United Kingdom. Since the summer of 2012 the Union and First Transit have been negotiating and have not reached an agreement on a labor contract. The Union objects to the retirement system which is a 401(k) system and wants to be included like all other County departments and employees in the Florida Retirement System. The Union transit workers have not received a raise since 2008. The Union objects to many of the same mid-management employees who were the basis of the strike in September 2011 who remained employed by First Transit after Veolia Transportation was removed. Lastly the Union also objects to the bad faith negotiations by First Transit which uses the excuse that they can’t provide economic counter proposals because they are under the direction of the Board of County Commissioners directing them to not give the transit workers any economic proposals. The Union is planning on filing a unfair labor practice with the National Labor Relations Board, a government agency which oversees the relationship between Unions and private employers. The Union contends that First Transit’s last economic offer for wages was 0% each year of a three year contract. Plus the Company has not responded to retirement proposals given by the Union. First Transit has offered a Group healthcare plan but the Union is concerned of out of pocket costs compared to the plan the County provides to their employees, especially noting the Inpatient costs for employees.

The Para transit workers which provide service to the mentally and physically disabled, have been without a labor contract since 2010. These Union workers are employed by Pensacola Bay Transportation, Inc. which the owner is based out of Mobile, Alabama. The Union workers are made up of drivers, mechanics, and cleaners who also transport the elderly as well. In 2005-2006 the employees went on the longest known strike in Escambia County which lasted 77 days against Pensacola Bay Transportation for poor wages, healthcare concerns, and poor working conditions. The current major complaint by these workers is that they make sub-standard wages and have little benefits to include no family coverage for healthcare. The employees receive just 16 hours a year for personal /sick leave. The average wage is about $9.00 an hour which is just barely over minimum wage. Some employees with almost 20 years of service make just over $10.00 an hour.

In April of this year the Union exposed to the Board of County Commissioners that the Alabama based Company had vehicles and vans in terrible and unsafe conditions. The Union took about 50 pictures and it revealed most Pensacola Bay Transportation vans with significant body damage, driver seats with exposed foam and springs that drivers had to sit on. The pictures showed holes in the roofs and side panels missing allowing mold to be built up and breathed in by drivers and passengers. Drivers reported many vans with bug problems. The Pensacola Bay Transportation building was reported not being kept up and maintained properly.

By June of this year many clients who ride the Para transit system started making complaints directly to County officials about the poor scheduling and conditions of the equipment. Dialysis clients and Dialysis Facilities made formal complaints to Commissioners like Commissioner Lumon May and Assistant County Administrator Larry Newsom. In July nurses from several local Dialysis facilities met with Commissioner May and Larry Newsom telling their stories of patients having to sit in their wheelchairs for hours waiting on Pensacola Bay Transportation to pick them up. They told them that often employees of the Dialysis facilities having to stay late after the facility closed to stay with their patients as they waited on the Pensacola Bay Transportation vans to pick them up. They talked about not being picked up for hours after their appointments and how damaging that was after being hooked up to the dialysis machines and how it physically and mentally drained the patients. Many other passengers of the system complained of the poor managing of the system by Pensacola Bay Transportation, especially noting the scheduling problems and poor vehicles. Most noted that this was not the drivers fault but they felt sorry for the drivers and the poor conditions they had to work under.

Union President Michael Lowery and the Union negotiating team has committed to reaching a comparable benefit package for all transit workers as noted by Commissioners as their require for their employees under the County departments. County Commissioner Chairman Gene Valentino in a recent County Commission meeting noted that it was his intent to make sure that Transit workers had comparable retirement and healthcare coverage to the Board of County Commission workers. Lowery states that he will work day and night with all involved to reach agreements for both ECAT and Pensacola Bay Transportation employees. Lowery also states that it remains the goal of the Union that all transit workers become public employees under the Board of County Commission but he and his team will keep an open mind. He continues to point out that all tax dollars, especially noting the new 4 cent gas tax for transit which starts January 1, 2014 should remain entirely in Escambia County. Lowery states, “Allowing our tax dollars to go out of our County and State or for that matter out of our Country is just not stewards of our tax dollars and helping grow our local economy.”