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Bus Driver Strike In Phoenix? Union Reps Urging Members to Vote Down Labor Contract; Support Strike

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A bus-driver strike may be looming in Phoenix, potentially disrupting at least 31 public-transit routes.

On Tuesday, officials with Veolia Transportation, a French-based company that operates those 31 bus routes, made their "best and final" offer the bus drivers' union.

Bob Bean, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433, which represents bus drivers, is urging members to reject Veolia's offer. And in the absence of a contract, he also wants them to also vote to go on strike.

"For the last 14 months, we've been in a hard struggle with Veolia of Phoenix over contract negotiations," Bean says in a videotaped message to members. "Last Tuesday, they shoved the final and best offer across the table at us...The [union] negotiation committee is strongly recommending a 'no' vote on this contract."

Bean, who couldn't be reached for comment, said in his taped message that about 8:30 p.m. on August 23, the results of members' vote would be posted on the ATU's local website and on the union's Facebook page.

He also told members to keep in touch with their "strike captains" for any directions that might be coming down the pike as early as Wednesday morning.

ATU officials and Veolia executives have been at odds since June 30, 2010 when the company's contract expired with workers. Negotiations have been contentious at best, and union reps have filed several charges over "bad faith" bargaining against the transit corporation with the National Labor Relations Board, an independent federal agency that safeguards employees' rights.

Veolia apparently conceded bad-faith negotiations and was even forced to give back pay to members of another union after company executives locked them out of their jobs.

Bus drivers are expected to vote whether to go on strike and on Veolia's offer starting on Saturday, going through Tuesday.

Michael Cornelius, union vice president, says the offer Veolia has put on the table includes a wage freeze and a "worsening of working conditions" for employees.

"We can't allow that to happen," Cornelius says to members, also in a videotaped message. "We will not tolerate a worsening of our working conditions based off some assumption that this is a bad economy for them."

As Veolia proposes wage freezes, its top executives have seen significant pay boosts and non-union employees lost about 40 percent of their pay, as New Times previously reported:

   Veolia's Chief Operating Officer Ken Westbrook wrote to the City Council in September [2010] to counter what he called "inaccurate information" being disseminated by some employees.
   Westbrook told elected officials that "it is imperative that our labor partners share some of the sacrifices that need to be made ..."
   Meanwhile, the company bumped the salary of the current general manager to $180,000 (the previous GM made $134,000) and gave him free use of the corporate apartment and a company car and free flights back to his hometown of Las Vegas, according to e-mail exchanges between Veolia executives obtained by New Times.
   Andy Marshall, an executive officer with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 104, also pointed out to the Phoenix City Council during a public meeting that Veolia's former maintenance manager made $85,000, but the new person in that position gets $158,000, plus a $15,000 annual pension payment and a company car.
   [In that same letter], Westbrook assured the City Council that "Veolia is not (and has not been) seeking to reduce the current wage rate of any current employee."
   That was about 10 weeks after a batch of employees had already been hit with an average pay cut of 40 percent.

Interesting to note that as members of ATU Local 1433 prepare to vote on Veolia's "best and final" offer in Phoenix, ATU reps also are in the midst of negotiations on behalf of members on a contract Veolia has with Tempe bus drivers and two other Phoenix's public-transit contracts with First Transit and MV Transportation.

Click here for a City of Phoenix Labor Negotiations Update page.

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