Dan Linhart—a bus driver with Sun Tran for 34 years—is happy to be back at work, and calls the end of the strike a good starting point for much-needed changes in the way the city of Tucson deals with transit services.
He hopes the 42-day-old strike that ended Wednesday night is good enough reason to know the importance of creating a dedicated funding source for transit, in order to take the burden off the general fund, and not make public transportation "compete" with other city services for money. Linhart, who's been a member of the negotiating committee for nearly two decades, gave Tucson City Manager Michael Ortega a lot of credit for what was accomplished in the final deal between Professional Transit Management—the company contracted by the city to manage Sun Tran—and members of the Teamsters Local Union 104.
City Councilman Steve Kozachik made a similar remark in that he hopes the strike will serve as a "catalyst for a reexamination of how we fund and manage our transit operations," he says in a statement to the media. "Too many of our constituents and too many budget decisions depend on how we address those issues for us to allow a simple return to the status quo. I look forward to joining my colleagues, city staff, our management team, the union and the community in taking time to address these significant issues in a measured and thoughtful manner."
The final deal has been very hush-hush, with only a few details making their way out of the circle. In terms of finances, fuel savings (roughly $500,000 that were returned to the general fund during the fiscal year) and strike savings (strikers didn't receive a salary from Sun Tran while they were picketing) were used in the negotiations, according to both the Teamsters and Sun Tran. Whatever the wages look like in this two-year contract, Teamsters negotiator Andy Marshall says the city budget was no reopened, and that no money was taken from any other department. The union worked with funds that were already there, he adds.
"The money could have been better, we are way behind where we should be statistically. Like everybody else, we want to get paid a living wage," Linhart says. "Part of the problem is having a private transit company with public funding going through it. Where are the funds really going?"
About the secretive nature of the deal, Linhart says there is nothing "insidious" about it. "For decades, we haven't really known the amount of money that is available to work with, it always put us at a disadvantage," he says. "We have finally removed that barrier and that is huge."
Another big step to Linhart was finally addressing the mold problem, as well as beginning to develop tactics for better security measures, especially on the more "dangerous" bus routes. He says Ortega was at the forefront of those talks.