Veolia Transportation Accused of Unfair Labor Practices Against Bus Drivers' Union

Veolia has to answer a federal complaint over unfair labor practices.
Veolia has to answer a federal complaint over unfair labor practices.

For nearly a year, Phoenix city-bus drivers have been going to work without an official contract with Veolia Transportation, the French company awarded a $385 million contract to operate those buses.

The drivers' contract expired on June 30, 2010, and while there have been a few contract extensions, the on again, off again negotiations between employees' union reps and corporate executives have gone nowhere.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433, which represents those bus drivers, blames Veolia officials, claiming they are dragging their feet and not dealing fairly with the union.

A series of charges the ATU filed with the National Labor Relations Board were credible enough to prompt the federal agency, which is charged with protecting employees' rights, to file its own complaint against the transit giant.

Veolia has until May 13 to respond to the NLRB complaint, and a hearing is scheduled for May 24 before an administrative law judge to give Veolia a chance to "present testimony regarding the allegations," according to NLRB records.

The numerous allegations against the transit company include that Veolia refuses to meet with union reps, agrees on certain contract terms and later reneges on its agreements and tries to negotiate directly with employee, by making offers of severance packages, to go around the union and undermine negotiations.

The Acting General Counsel of the NLRB wants a judge to order for Veolia to:

1) bargain with the ATU for at least 24 hours each month (at least six hours per session) until a complete collective-bargaining agreement or good-faith impasse is reached.
(2) submit a written bargaining report every 15 days to the NLRB Regional Director.
(3) reimburse the Union for its bargaining costs and expenses, from its initial request to bargain for a successor agreement to the present
(4) rescind any offers/changes it has made directly to the employees

Right now, there aren't any bargaining sessions scheduled between Veolia and the ATU. And, because ATU union reps are negotiating three other public transit contracts in the Valley -- all which expire on June 30 -- the earliest union reps can meet on the Phoenix contract is July 6, said Bob Bean, president of ATU Local 1433.

He called the feds complaint against Veolia a "victory" for the ATU.

"This validates everything that we've been saying about them bargaining in bad faith," he tells New Times. "The complaint means that there is enough proof of it ... and that Veolia is going to have to answer to each and everyone of those charges."

Bargaining in "bad faith" generally means that one side doesn't really want to reach an agreement. That might be because it wants to force negotiations to an impasse, or dead end. At that point, the company can either lock out workers or workers can go on strike.

"We've done everything in our power to keep those buses rolling no matter how much the company has tried to force us to an impasse," Bean says. "Our members continue to show up to work every day because they know the people of Phoenix need to get to work too."

Lawrence Hanley, international president of the ATU said that "Veolia is a billion-dollar, international corporation that tries to pad its own bottom line by taking advantage of American workers in cities across the country."

This NLRB complaint isn't Veolia's only concern.

The company (and the City of Phoenix) came under scrutiny by the Federal Transit Administration after New Times reported that Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon relayed advice to the transit company on how to get the city to fork over nearly $30 million.

Gordon's suggestion came at a time when he was publicly declaring a conflict of interest with the company because his girlfriend, Elissa Mullany, is on the company's payroll. Mullany helped Veolia executives with their city proposal. And, Veolia's paid lobbyist, Billy Shields, a longtime friend of Gordon and former head of the Phoenix firefighters union, was also discussing Veolia-related issues with Gordon behind the scenes.

The FTA inquiry is still pending.

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