For more than a year, the union leaders representing more than 630 Phoenix bus drivers have been trying to hammer out a contract with Veolia Transportation executives.
Now those talks are expected to pick up again after Labor Day.
Veolia is the French transit company that landed a $383 million city-bus contract in July 2010 to operate 31 routes of the Valley's 100 bus routes.
The negotiations have been contentious, and on Tuesday night, nearly all of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433's voting members -- 96 percent of them-- shot down what those execs proposed as their "best and final" offer.
It's interesting that while Veolia officials called its latest proposal their "best and final" offer, a company spokeswoman, Val Michael, told the Arizona Republic that they would be willing to go back to the negotiating table.
"We've submitted some dates that our executives are available to sit down and meet," Michael told the Republic. "We're waiting for the union to come back or submit counter dates that they're available."
How could Veolia's offer been either a "best" or "final" one when they are still willing to negotiate?
Local 1433 President Bob Bean says that they, too, "stand ready to negotiate a fair contract, but we cannot accept an agreement in which we make less five years from now than we do today."
Among sticking points?
- Veolia wants to gradually eliminate two weeks of vacation days for future employees.
- Union officials want to keep the current vacation schedule, which is a max of five weeks after 20 years of service.
- If Veolia lost its Phoenix bus contract, executives want to wait until after they're gone to discuss the company's responsibilities, including pension payments, to employees.
- Union leaders want to get everything in writing before that happens. They note that Veolia has already agreed to those terms for three other bus drivers' union contracts in the Valley.
- Veolia proposes that employees will earn a half-day of sick leave each month And they don't want to pay employees after December 31 for any of the sick days they have already accrued. [They previously paid for as many as 144 saved up sick days when an employee retired.]
- Union leaders are pushing for employees to get one sick day per month, and want employees who retire under the old labor agreement to get paid for all of the sick days they've built up. They say that's been a standard part of their contract for the past 20 years.
- Veolia wants to cut in half their contribution toward bus drivers' health insurance premiums.
- Union leaders want the company to keep those figures the same. They say that in previous contracts, workers agreed to give up a portion of their pay raise to cover insurance expenses, so it is money earmarked for employees being used to offset those costs
- Veolia wants no employee pay raises the first year, a one-half percent raise the second year and a 1 percent increase each year for the following three years -- that is, a 3 1/2 percent increase over the next five years.
- Union leaders are asking for a 1/2 percent to 1 1/2 percent raise for employees in the second and third years of a three-year contract -- potentially a 3 percent raise over three years.
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- Veolia wants the ability to have as many as 60 part-time employees on staff.
- Union bosses say no more than 30 part-time drivers on staff.
- Velioa wants a 5-year contract
- Union reps are pushing for a 3-year contract