"Everything that this company has done has been nothing but a bait and switch," he says angrily.

I started talking to the union last summer, seven months before light rail opened. At that point, union members were concerned because contract negotiations had stalled and ACI was making no attempt to return to the table.

Under federal transit rules, the trains literally could not start running without the union being involved. That may sound surprising to people accustomed to Arizona's "right to work" policies, but as I learned, federal law is in play here. In any city starting a new rail line, the union representing city bus drivers has first dibs on representing rail workers.

Thanks in part to my column, ACI finally seemed to realize the drill: It had no choice but to deal with the Amalgamated Transit Union. The union tells me that, at that point, everyone worked hard to hammer out a tentative agreement.

After the two parties shook on the deal, the Boston guys were supposed to send the Phoenix union a copy of the agreement to present to their membership. "We'd thought everything was fine, that we'd have to schedule a vote and that was it," recalls Jim McCubbin, the union's vice president.

But ACI suddenly balked. It told the union that it didn't actually have a tentative agreement — never mind that handshake in December.

On February 26, the union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging bad-faith bargaining. The feds gave ACI a deadline of April 15 to acknowledge the tentative agreement.

When I visited the union offices on April 16, the place buzzed with excitement: ACI had promised to send over a copy of the agreement within the hour.

Naturally, the copy never showed up.

McKay, of ACI, says the contract is now in the union's hands. If that's really the case, I have no doubt the union is going to move quickly.

Indeed, as the operators explained to me, driving buses wasn't glamorous, and it wasn't always safe. But driving the bus was a good job, a dependable job, a job where they knew what to expect and how they'd be treated.

Not so with rail. Not under ACI.

"This is 100 percent more stressful than the bus," says one longtime operator. "And there's no rhyme or reason to anything with this job. I don't know what the rules are. The rules are whatever they make up that day."

"We didn't want anything more than what we had at the bus," says another. "We were strongly led to believe we'd get better conditions. That wasn't true. We only want what we used to have."

It's been four long months, but I'm hopeful that ACI finally gets it. Now if they could just get cracking on that "caution" tape . . .

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9 comments
Toddepley
Toddepley

I will start out by saying the most blame needs to go to the elected officials who decided it was a good idea to contract out the bus services to for profit corporations. PUBLIC transportation SHOULD NOT BE A FOR PROFIT ENTERPRISE! The problem is corporations all bid low in order to get the contract, then once they win the contract they realize that the bid was very low and their profits are going to be tiny, therefore because a corporations ONLY purpose is to MAXIMIZE PROFITS WITHOUT REGARD FOR ANYTHING ELSE, SUCH AS SOCIETY, they decide the only way to make more profits it to cut things like drivers wages and such. Now, that being said, the Union that is in this situation IS ALSO TO BLAME. I cannot believe that they are striking because they dont want over $22 an hour plus overtime and benefits. WITH THE AMOUNT OF UNEMPLOYED PEOPLE IN AZ, I PROMISE YOU THERE ARE THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE WHO WOULD GLADLY, ACCEPT A $50,000 a year job. You don't like that the trains or bus' smell, or that you work too many hours? THEN QUIT YOU WHINING TOOLS! Its a JOB! Your being paid to provide a service, if you dont like the conditions it is your right to quit. But those who do want to work for their living should be able to replace those toolboxes who are whining ans striking. Sadly this all would have been avoided if the government actually took the responsibility to run the public transport system instead of pawning it off to some soulless corporation. Sadly now that this corporation has a contract in place, the people can not do anything about it because simply electing other officials would not change the fact that a corporation is running the bus' and corporations basically do whatever the hell they please. And there in lies the problem with this ENTIRE COUNTRY. THE RELATIONSHIP THAT FEDREAL, STATE, COUNTY, CITY and LOCAL GOVERNMENTS HAVE WITH CORPORATIONS IS COMPLETELY WRONG AND NEEDS TO BE OUTLAWED. THIS IS BECAUSE THESE TWO THINGS HAVE VASTLY DIFFERENT MOTIVATIONS. A GOVERNMENT IS SUPPOSED TO HELP EVERYONE AND A CORPORATION IS ONLY SUPPOSED TO HELP ITS INVESTORS. WE ARE THE 99% and I promise that by the end of my lifetime (I am 25), that this orgy of government and corporations will be SHUT DOWN, and GOVERNMENT WILL BE RESTORED TO ITS INTENDED COMPOSITION AS FOR THE PEOPLE AND BY THE PEOPLE. NOT BY THE PEOPLE FOR THE INVESTORS. The worst part is that this has been so ingraned in our society that most people dont even understand the argument I am making. The entire GOP has no idea about anything involving the real world, they live in a fantasy land.

Light Rail Operator
Light Rail Operator

As A Light Rail Operator all I can tell you is yea were pissed but not at ACI were pissed at ATU for negotiating a contract without doing any research of other light rail contracts. The contract they are proposing is basically the bus driver contract rewritten and light rail is not a bus but Dumb (Jim ) and Dumber (Bob) don't get it that is why we will do everything we can to get rid of these yo yo's

Toddepley
Toddepley

WHY are you forced to do what the union does? Isnt Arizona a right to work state?

Robert
Robert

Good article. In addition to all the problems noted, have you ever listened to light rail on a scanner? Literally, every few minutes drivers are reporting problems and issues with the "Mechanics" of the system. i.e "Train won't move", "Doors won't close", "I have an indication on the screen that says ....". And have to wait for a Maintainence person to fix the problem before they can move. They are plagued with so many little problems that delay the train. It keeps the maintainence guy's busy too! At first I couldn't believe how many problems I was hearing.

I just hope they are able to keep the system afloat.

Robert in Phoenix.

To Be Determined
To Be Determined

Wow! What a crock. Next time ask the majority of the train operators what they really think of ACI, and not the handfull of operators interviewed for this article, who would a find a reason to complain even if they were getting paid a million dollars an hour to go fishing. Good thing the majority of the operators are voting out those idiots at ATU, this was the last parting swing by ATU before they leave because they know the opertors can't stand them. What a rag next time get both sides of a story before reporting, worst reporter ever.(should be fired IMHO)

Andrew L. Ayers
Andrew L. Ayers

First, replace the drivers with computers (this should've been done in the beginning). Then rehire and retrain the drivers as security guards/ticket checkers/carriage maintenance. Put in a locker or something in each car to carry supplies. Continue to press for a union.

Toddepley
Toddepley

The technology for mechanical bus drivers just doesnt exist right now. Its going to be many years before humans decide to allow bus, cars etc from controlling themselves without human interaction. They need to stop giving the contracts to corporations to run the bus services, because these corporations dont care about the public who uses the bus, or the bus drivers, they only care that they continue to get paid by the city so they can continue to make their rich owners/investors richer and richer. This is just another example of ways that the top 1% (this is just a way to simply refer to rich corporate investors) uses to funnel more and more cash from the 99% into their own bank accounts in the Cayman Islands and other offshore banks, so they dont even have to pay taxes. These people should be thrown out of the country and their money should be distributed to the public. They are the number one enemy of the United States, yes religious fundamentalists (Islamic and Christian) are the second biggest enemy of our country, but the 1% is by far the biggest. Anyone who cant see that is blind or willingly looking away because they cant/wont/choose not to deal with the realities that are facing our country right now.

Mark Hendershott
Mark Hendershott

Ah, the wonders of privatization! Full disclosure: Former ATU member.

 
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