March 12, 2012

Bus Drivers Reach Deal With TCAT Management

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After more than six months of heated negotiations between bus drivers and management over the terms of a contract, TCAT employees approved the final version of a new contract on Friday.

Workers’ acceptance of the agreement comes after they rejected two separate proposals put forth by TCAT management and the drivers’ union, United Auto Workers Local 2300, in September and November. On Nov. 10, about one third of TCAT drivers called in sick, citing discontent over negotiations and disrupting service on at least 11 rural routes.

TCAT bus operators and maintenance workers voted 48 to 16 on Friday to ratify the two-and-a-half-year contract, which will replace the three-year contract that expired on Sept. 11, according to Patty Poist, communications and marketing manager for TCAT.

The contract — which will expire June 30, 2014 — calls for a $500 bonus payable in 2012, a $525 bonus in 2013 and a 1.25-percent wage increase in 2014, according to a TCAT press release.

Joe Turcotte, TCAT’s general manager, attributed the 25 percent of drivers who said they were still unsatisfied with the contract terms to an inability to “adequately communicate” that TCAT is facing budgetary constraints.

“TCAT over the past several years — in better economic times — worked diligently to raise wages and improve overall working conditions for union represented employees,” Turcotte said in an email Monday. “Times are tougher now.”

TCAT, which operated under more than a $300,000 deficit at the end of 2011, faces a continued financial shortfall for 2012, Turcotte said.

The ability for TCAT management to strike a balance between providing continued wage increases and offering employees a more comprehensive health insurance plan has been a point of contention over the last several months.

However, the new contract seeks to mitigate this tension by offering drivers and mechanics a dual option for health insurance. The plan will give workers a choice between a more expensive plan with broader coverage and a more affordable plan with “a little less coverage,” Poist said.

“[The Simply Blue plan] entails higher co-pays and deductibles and therefore is less expensive in terms of premiums for both employee and company,” Alice Eccleston, TCAT’s assistant general manager, said in an email.

Employees who do not believe that Simply Blue offers adequate coverage can pay more for an alternative preferred provider plan — a more flexible option that allows the insured person to seek medical care from an out-of-network provider — that costs both the employee and the company more in out-of-pocket deductibles, according to Eccleston.

“Either way, all employees have comprehensive coverage,” she said. “Roughly 20 percent of our employees opted for the less expensive option.”

According to a press release, the dual option plan aims to keep the cost of insurance premiums low while accepting “modest increases” in co-pays and deductibles. Poist said TCAT will see premium insurance rates climb about five percent, an increase she said was much lower than those faced by employees at many other companies this year.

Despite its strengths, the final contract did not include a “me too” clause — which would have required TCAT to raise employee wages any time management received wage increases. Poist called this provision “untenable.”

The second contract proposal, put to the workers for consideration in November, raised debates over the inclusion of the me too clause, The Sun reported in November.

“[It] would make absolutely no sense in the event [that] you had an administrative promotion,” Poist said. “No company could sustain something like that. A study in labor law would confirm that.”

In November, UAW President Jack Kaminsky criticized TCAT management’s resistance to the clause, claiming TCAT was unwilling to make the same concessions they expected from their workers.

However, in a press release Monday, Kaminsky echoed TCAT management’s relief that a resolution had been reached.

“We are happy the contract was ratified and now we can all move forward,” he said.

Original Author: Utsav Rai