Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Bus Strike Opinion: The Ghost of Transit Past Has Become the Nightmare of Transit Present

Posted By on Wed, Sep 9, 2015 at 11:30 AM

click to enlarge MARIA INÉS TARACENA
  • Maria Inés Taracena

The bus strike is in its fifth week, with no Teamsters Local Union 104/Sun Tran deal in sight.

The city of Tucson said in a press conference last week (and Councilman Steve Kozachik said in a press release) that it would not modify its budget to end the strike. The city's already established its finances for Fiscal Year 2016, which includes the money available for Transdev (France-based company that manages Sun Tran) and those figures are all they have to offer in terms of wages, etc.. In other words, they're saying they can't afford the Teamsters' demands.

(At the press conference, the city also reminded us that, by law, the city cannot intervene with negotiations.)

Sun Tran has been able to add more routes to its limited service, in part because there are about two dozen management and administrative staffers helping out, as well as 15 others from out of state, who were hired by Transdev recently, according to Kozachik. (Even though Sun Tran repeatedly denied they had temporary drivers on board.) "While I support their efforts to staff the positions needed to run the number of routes we have demanded, I also understand the level of concern the outside drivers are causing," Kozachik said in a press statement. 

He proposed allocating the roughly $500,000 in fuel savings returned to the city's general fund last fiscal year, and use the money as a "one time payment" at the negotiating table "as a way of bringing the sides back together to end their work stoppage."

On Tuesday, Sun Tran announced it had added route 23. Now, 13 routes are running from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.:

Route 3 – 6th St./Wilmot
Route 4 – Speedway
Route 6 – Euclid/ N. 1st Ave.
Route 7 – 22nd Street
Route 8 – Broadway
Route 9 – E. Grant
Route 11 – Alvernon
Route 16 – Oracle/Ina
Route 18 – South 6th Avenue
Route 23 – Mission
Route 25 – South Park Avenue
Route 29 – Valencia
Route 34 – Craycroft/Ft.Lowell
Dan Linhart, who's with the Teamsters in the negotiating table (has been a presence in the negotiating committee for nearly two decades) and has worked with Sun Tran for 34 years, sent us another opinion piece. Here's what he has to say:
The Sun Tran strike has resulted in thousands of people void of transportation; lost jobs, health care compromised, students under the threat of losing funding; the poor, working poor, seniors, handicapped and all those unable to attend to basic needs have been severely impacted. Why? Simply because we do not have four City Council members with the gumption to collectively lead!

City Staff has taken advantage of our part-time reluctant leaders for some time. The mounting frustration, however has not reached the ninth or tenth floor star chambers of City Hall, wherein the Mayor and City Manager sit comfortably, waiting out the ‘storm’. The Mayor’s statement of August 18: “Under applicable law, mayor and council cannot intervene in, or dictate the outcome of, these negotiations”. What applicable law? "The City of Tucson, which owns the system, has final control and authority, through its duly elected Mayor and Council, City Manager"… quoted from Transdev’s contract solicitation with the City of Tucson. Plain enough?

How did we get here?
The Mayor and Council ‘manãna’ story from yester-year continues… The Mayor and Council, have, and continue to cede power and control to the office of the City Manager. This arrangement is wrong on so many levels; the proofs are manifested by who actually is being served in this, our community. City Manager’s office has, and continues to view Federal Transit Administration Funds, Mass Transit and General Funds as personal ATM’s, shielded by the records of the private management firms, developers, consultants, contractors and design engineers which are NOT public record. The City Council, being part time, has, and continues to spend their tenures trying to grasp what priorities are being driven by the City Manager and bullied in to fruition by the Mayor. The Mayor does not count in a quorum, yet he still votes on all the issues. The Mayor is attempting once again to ‘grab’ more power in the November election. More power for the Mayor equates to more representation for the developers, and less for citizens. Ask your Council member: what is going on with the City of Tucson budget; invariably they will express frustration from their lack of understanding. The City of Tucson has a ‘budget legacy’ of limited transparency, a lack of oversight and accountability; coupled with a City Manager’s staff unwilling to give-up their ‘cash cows’ (another $147 million for Ronstadt?) Could this become the Jonathon Rothschild Center?

The apparent loss of control by policy makers in a democratic society has, once again, and will continue, to lead to governmental abuse of our tax dollars.

Where does that leave Sun Tran?

Driver’s assaults:
yet another in a long succession of story lines, including no money to pay for security; which leaves passenger safety at risk as well. Not acceptable!

Super High Concentrations of Mold: not only in the work place, throughout the buses as well; yet another story line; regardless of number of medical claims on file. No money to pay for a complete resolution and remediation. Not acceptable!

Safe? Buses: Given that Sun Tran buses have been on ‘cost saving’ ‘Break-Down’ Maintenance for years, with no scheduled maintenance, only the Federally mandated Preventive Maintenance Inspections (PMI) and questionable brakes; what are they running on now during the strike?

Mis-Managing: The wage and progression freezes implemented August 1, 2012 has resulted in approximately $1 million dollars annually spent on bus driver’s overtime, as Sun Tran is unable to retain employees as a direct result of the freeze; yet, Kate Riley has again, put it out to the news outlets; the annual pay of bus driver’s including benefits and overtime! Ludicrous, as City Staff directed Sun Tran to impose the freeze! Cost savings? Getting dizzy yet? In many cases Sun Tran did not inform the new hires that their wages were in fact, frozen; once the new hires discover that they will be ‘frozen’ at the starting wage, possibly forever; they take their CDL and run. The City of Tucson has not projected savings from the wage and progression freeze; for Police, Fire, City blue collar or Sun Tran employees; what then, was the intent? No savings projected, no money unaccounted for…right? And so goes the shell game…

Teamsters of Sun Tran are intimately familiar with the manãna story; going back thirty four years, enduring successive promises of recompense if we would collectively agree to wage concessions; history has taught us well, after having agreed, in good faith, the promise of recompense was never kept by the private management company. We won’t be fooled again!

The Teamsters of Sun Tran historically have been proactive in being part of the solution. Identifying millions of dollars in missing inventories in 1997, which lead to a strike, compensation study, and an audit of the private management company, Ryder/ATE; The strike was settled by then Mayor Miller, and Council, with a promise, and a proud display of integrity, keeping their word to Sun Tran employees; providing sufficient funds to bring Sun Tran employees up to ‘parity’ with City employees; this led to working with the City Council in 1998, which, together were able to identify an effective strategy to circumvent the city charter (which prohibits the right to strike, and inhibits Federal funding) allowing the City of Tucson to form a non-profit ‘arm’ of local government, which would enable the City of Tucson to manage Sun Tran directly, without the middle-man (PTM). At that time, the City of Tucson agreed to form a committee for the express purpose of forming a Regional TRANSIT Authority, with the sole purpose of establishing a dedicated funding source for transit.

Along came Mayor Walkup and company: realizing how much money was at stake; the Regional TRANSIT Authority committee was disbanded, another committee put in place, for what came to be the Regional Transportation Authority; very few in the community were even aware of the change.

2001: Teamsters of Sun Tran, unable to reach an agreement with the private management company Professional Transit Management; engaged in a twelve day strike, effectively ended by the onset of 9/11; settled with millions of dollars of savings in controlled health care costs, as well as concessions totaling an additional $4.3 million dollars. Savings and concessions all from Teamsters.

Mayor Walkup and company were so intent on using the regional Transportation authority spawned light rail to ‘revitalize’ downtown; after the well publicized failure of Rio Nuevo to the tune of $205 million, or was it $230 million; and, “oh shucks guys, don’t do that no more!” Sun Link’s price tag: $200 million; City of Tucson invested local money in excess of $52 million, counting the $15 million plus ‘robbed’ from road funds (can you say potholes?) to build the light rail bridge over the Santa Cruz River to the West side; which exponentially increased the investor/landowner’s land value. I’m sure the City Manager got a thank you ‘card’ for spending our road repair money.

2010: Teamsters of Sun Tran, once again engaged in a seven day strike, prompted by the same ‘line in the sand’ mentality faced with today, including the ever popular City of Tucson theme of ‘no money’. The Teamsters rallied behind the concept of the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) taking control of Sun Tran; however the perception of the RTA having money was a delusion, and was exposed to be nothing beyond a power grab by the RTA in collusion with Professional Transit Management. Teamsters conceded, only to have Professional Transit Management renege on every promise made; resulting in the worst contract settlement In Sun Tran history.
The Sun Link annual operating cost and debt service, in excess of $2.3 million (which the City of Tucson had neither projected, nor budgeted for); will forever be a burden to local taxpayers. The City of Tucson demanded savings from Sun Tran’s budget this fiscal year alone in the amount of $2.4 million (coincidence?). The fact that the General Manager of Sun Link, an employee of the private management company RAPTA-DEV; earns $247,000.00 a year in a lump sum payment; just might be a factor in that burden. At the end of the day.

The concept of the City of Tucson forming a non-profit ‘arm’ of local government, remains a viable alternative for today; until such time the City and Pima County decide to ‘grow-up’ and meet the needs of this community; forming a Regional TRANSIT Authority, providing a dedicated funding source, wherein complete transparency exists, ensuring all monies budgeted for Transit, are in fact utilized for Transit; in the stead of spending in excess of $4.6 million annually on lucrative private Transit Management contracts, with limited oversight and questionable accountability.

As taxpayers we should not have to pay for the continual parade of our tax dollars being siphoned out of state, and even out of the country. Our tax dollars should be invested in their entirety in the local work force so it can be a viable component of the local economy.

If Sun Tran employees, as an organized work force, cannot attain a safe working environment and a livable wage, what hope is there for workers without the protection of a Union?

The decision to strike is not taken lightly by the Teamsters of Sun Tran. Striking is always the last resort. Union representation grants us the right to negotiate as equals in regards to wages, benefits, and working conditions. Unions are the last defense against corporate greed, and preserving the American dream for all working men and woman. There once was a time that politicians lobbied for the ‘working man and woman’, that has been greatly minimized by the allure of money, power, stature, and grotesque golden parachutes obtained by effectively outsourcing good American jobs.

America’s work place today is a direct result of the Unions fight for everything that we enjoy today in our work environment. Corporate America wants to take it all away, and bring our standard of living down; which is even more reprehensible when local government buys in to this concept in the midst of rampant spending.

The Regional Transportation Authority taking over control of Sun Tran; is not a viable option, as that would lead to competing with yet another number of entities for funding, which, is the inherent problem; as Sun Tran currently competes with Police, Fire and Solid Waste, as well as other City departments for funding.

Surreal trying to grasp the concept that our democratic Mayor and Council would support out of state strike breakers over exercising their collective leadership to end this strike. Evidently 66,000 passengers stranded do not qualify as a ‘priority’ with our elected officials.

Mayor and Council: Step-up to the plate! You have the Power, you have the authority, and you possess the tools necessary to bring this strike to an end!

It is the Mayor and Council’s moral and ethical responsibility to serve the citizens of Tucson; not the corporations. This struggle is only a small chapter that may yet serve as a large stepping stone for what the future holds for livable wages in Southern Arizona.

Management contracts annually:

PTM – Veolia - Transdev Sun Tran/Sun Van: $660,000.00

Ryder Logistics/Sun Van Maintenance: $1,406,136.00 + mileage

RAPTA Dev/Sun Link: $787,922.00

Total Transit/Sun Shuttle: $1,753,932.00

Total: $4,607,990.00

Not Included: Oro Valley, Sahuarita

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