Thursday, February 3, 2011

SORTA rejects recommendations on new driver contract

Trustees for the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA), the agency that operates the regional Metro and Access bus transit systems, have rejected a set of state fact finder's recommendations related to a new three-year contract that they say would have led to severe service cutbacks.

The recommendations, from the State Employment Relations Board (SERB), were rejected because of massive wage increases and a lack of clarity on health insurance provisions and costs.

The 676 union bus operators with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 627 continue to work under terms of their old contract, which expired Monday.

"We value our employees, who provide a critical service to the community," said Terry Garcia Crews, Metro CEO, in a media release. "It is our hope that ATU Local 627 will return to the bargaining table with us to forge a mutually acceptable contract."

The contract negotiations come at a time of significant budget challenges for SORTA.

In December, Cincinnati City Council reduces funding for the agency, creating a $1 million budget deficit for 2011. Applying SERB's recommendations could lead to a $47 million deficit by 2013.

That would have led to the elimination of Sunday service and a 38 percent reduction in Saturday service beginning this June. Forty-four bus operators, 13 mechanics, and several administrative positions would be lost.

"Our objective is to preserve service for our customers and jobs for our employees," said Sean Rugless, chairman of the SORTA board. "The fact finder's recommendation would have jeopardized SORTA's financial stability and put both service and jobs at risk."

SORTA plans to resume negotiations, he said.

Previous reading on BC:
SORTA says City funding decision violates contract, sets 'dangerous precedent' (1/10/11)
Metro wins $1.9M for hybrid buses (6/10/10)
Metro honored for safety, plans new communications system (6/8/10)
Tell your Metro story, win free bus rides for a year (6/1/10)
Metro, TANK to offer free rides on Bike to Work Day (5/11/10)