Thursday, August 20, 2015

Sun Tran Strike Opinion Piece: The Bus Buck Stops Where?

Posted By on Thu, Aug 20, 2015 at 12:00 PM

click to enlarge MARIA INÉS TARACENA
  • Maria Inés Taracena

The Sun Tran strike's been on for 15 days now, without many changes regarding the negotiations. I wrote a recap this week involving the different voices there are in the issue.

A few days ago, someone in the negotiating table reached out to the Tucson Weekly with his insight. 

Dan Linhart is with the Teamsters and has worked with Sun Tran for 34 years. He's been with the negotiating committee for 18 of those years, so he knows a thing or two about what's going on. 

He sent the Weekly an opinion piece, and here it is:
Although the city doesn’t have a seat at the negotiating table; Transdev, previously Veolia; the 60% French Government owned, for profit management company, is contracted by the City of Tucson to manage Sun Tran. Transdev took over Tom Hock’s company; Professional Transit Management.

Mr. Hock has been repeatedly accused of stonewalling to perpetuate strikes in Phoenix, California, Texas, Massachusetts and New York. How much does Hock’s company get to keep for profit if he does not give the money allocated by the City of Tucson to the Teamsters? Hock showed up two days, with nothing to contribute at the table (already counting his chickens?) City of Tucson’s previous Transit Administrator: George Caria, the former General Manager of Sun Tran, an employee and stockholder of Veolia; (conflict of interest?); was signatory to millions of dollars in public funds with little or no oversight! Following the bouncing ball?

Approximately $4.6 million annually in public funds are spent on lucrative private Transit management contracts in the Tucson valley. The City of Tucson and the RTA both have Transit divisions, why the duplication of services? The City of Tucson was made aware in 1998; how they could effectively circumvent the City Charter and directly manage the bus system. Any change from this current arrangement seems to be outside of the City Manager’s ‘comfort zone’. The ensuing shell game with public funds is mind boggling!

It is a sad state of affairs when the City Council members express frustration over not knowing what is going on with the budget, one Councilman’s statement: “The city of Tucson Budget is designed so no one can understand what is actually going on with the budget” How convenient for the City Manager; when the General Fund Revenues are at their highest in 8 years. ‘The Mayor and Council have full discretion to program the General Fund to meet the City’s priority needs’. Where are they?

The current Sun Tran Strike is merely a manifestation, once again of the City of Tucson’s inability (unwillingness?) to manage their resources and to provide the oversight necessary to ensure public funds are in fact spent within the guidelines in which the funds are budgeted. Budget constraints are effectively created by the continual parade of Mass Transit funds diverted back to… the General Fund? Where then does the money end up? City staff refuses to provide the answers, even through numerous public information requests.

Sun Tran; ever under the threat of fare increases and reduction in service has, and continues to be a mere storyline for the citizens of Tucson. The City imposed a $2.4 million cut from the current fiscal year Sun Tran budget that is stated to be accomplished through route changes and consolidations; that directly impacts those dependant on Sun Tran, which, is wrong on so many levels, as Sun Tran is a core service, not one to be borne on the backs of the poor or the working men and woman of this community.

If, in fact Sun Tran has been the efficient operation that their very own marketing have made it out to be; how then has safety, security and health of the employees and the public they serve become a matter of such low importance?
The Union has greatly reduced their offer, taking into consideration the costs that would be associated with driver and passenger safety, security and health. Teamsters would like to get this settled, Unfortunately the Company rejected the offer, as ‘economically unfeasible’; standing firm behind their ‘line in the sand’.

Contact the City Manager: Ask where the money is going? If the City Manager is robbing from Peter (Sun Tran) to pay Paul; what, or who the hell is Paul? Or should I say… Tom? Are our public funds on the express bus… to France?
Another short piece with additional information:

The AZ Star article of Sunday August 9 authored by Tim Steller stating ‘sooner or later, the City of Tucson will likely step in and resolve the Sun Tran strike”, which is correct...

Under the current conditions, the city does have to maintain an ‘arms length’ relationship in regards to the contract negotiations with the Teamsters; that, due to the fact that the city charter prohibits employees from striking; the City of Tucson in order to be the recipient of Federal Funds, must afford the transit employees the right to binding arbitration as well as the right to strike. Tucson relies heavily on Federal funds to be able to provide bus service.

In 2013 negotiations Sun Tran General Manager stated outright: “There is absolutely no money for wages and benefits”. Which led the Union to conduct an independent Audit with a contracted CPA; revealing $1,315,409 budgeted specifically for 2013 wages and benefits, and again $949,179 budgeted specifically for 2014 wages and benefits; all monies were in fact returned… to the General Fund? Total of $2,264,588.00 returned to… the General Fund? Those monies were not for expansion in service as Sun Tran management has put out in their ‘cover-up’ statement; on the contrary, the RTA which is responsible for expansion, reduced their revenue for this Fiscal Year, which is reflected in the October 5, 2012 revenue projection. The City of Tucson projects costs in their ‘Five- Year Strategic Transit Plan’ under the ‘Mass Transit System Five Year Financial Forecast’, which makes sense; it would be irresponsible not to project costs. Which means: The monies are budgeted.

City of Tucson General Fund Revenue in Fiscal Year 2015: $476.9 million, which was the highest in 7 years, $9 million over 2014. The current Fiscal Year 2016 recommended budget includes a total of $493.6 million in General Fund revenue which is a $16.7 million increase over the Fiscal Year 2015 adopted budget. General Fund Transfers to Mass Transit: increasing $1.1 million to $46 million, from $44.9 million in Fiscal Year 2015. No Money?

Sun Tran management drew the proverbial line in the sand; in the form of the firm and final offer put on the table. At that juncture in the negotiation process, the Teamster bargaining unit members of Sun Tran had no other option than to vote on the firm and final; the results were very clear. Sun Tran Teamsters have been backed against this same ‘wall’ for years; Sun Tran management has repeatedly refused to address employees’ safety, security and health on the job. Employee pay and benefits have not kept pace with inflation for the past 34 years.

The citizens of this community deserve a top notch bus system, not one running on break-down maintenance, with scheduled maintenance unheard-of, simply performing the Federally mandated oil changes and inspections (PMI) and deferring defects noted for tomorrow (which in most cases only comes when the bus actually breaks down).

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