Fight for fairness continues

Update 12-18-2002 — Tentative agreement reached








Bus lockout ends, talks resume

Workers take case directly to elected Regional Transportation Commission

RENO (Friday, 8-23-2002) — Locked-out members of Teamsters Local 533 expressed guarded optimism after Thursday afternoon's surprise announcement that the Reno area bus lockout has been unilaterally called off by management.

"We've won this battle, but we haven't won the war," Local 533 secretary-treasurer Lou Martino told workers as they took down picket lines at the downtown Reno CityCenter bus transfer station in the heart of the casino district.

At 12 noon on Friday, Martino will re-enter talks with Transit Management of Washoe, Inc., (TMW), the British-owned firm which provides three executives to run the public bus system for $27,019 per month.

Union members will nonetheless press forward, taking their case directly to the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County (RTC) on Friday morning. Among other items, they will read into the record a recent letter to RTC Executive Director Greg Krause from Danny Thompson, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Nevada State AFL-CIO.

"RTC is putting forward an advisory question (WC-2) on the November ballot seeking state legislation for the RTC to obtain additional funding for transportation projects in the Truckee Meadows," Thompson wrote.

"If approved, this will result in increased fuel taxes, increase the regional road impact fee and increase the sales tax by one-quarter of one percent to support public transportation," Thompson added.

MAKING HER CASE — Citifare dispatcher and Teamsters shop steward Eileen Wiley, standing at right, presents the workers' point of view to the Regional Transportation Commission's Citizens Advisory Board on 8-21-2002. (Norma Alexander photo) [UPDATE 10-8-2006: Eileen Wiley dies.]

A Reno Gazette-Journal/ KRNV TV-4 poll released earlier this month showed Washoe County voters opposed to the tax question by a landslide 63- to 33-percent margin.

"The 165,000 members of the Nevada State AFL-CIO...cannot support any increase in funding or increases in taxes that would be paid to the RTC against the striking workers. I am writing to ask you to use all legal remedies to solve this dispute and to stop replacing Nevada workers with out of state workers with no tie to this community," Thompson stated.

The umbrella labor federation will vote on a resolution to oppose Question WC-2 at its annual convention which begins Monday in Las Vegas. Last June, Nevada State AFL-CIO opposition to a similar November ballot question in Clark County provided the deciding factor in ending a six-week bus strike in populous southern Nevada.

"The Regional Transportation Commission contractually retains great power over Transit Management of Washoe despite the hands-off public posture of four of its five elected members," Martino said.

The commission's regular monthly meeting has scheduled no specific agenda item regarding the strike/lockout.

Commissioner Dave Aiazzi, a Reno city councilman, has lobbied his colleagues to call a special meeting about the lockout, but has received no support from other board members. Only Aiazzi has expressed any sympathy for the plight of theworkers.

Last week, Aiazzi said that "(transit manager) Mike Steele should have come to the commission and said we are at an impasse — What would you like to do, stay at impasse or give me more money to bargain with?"

After negotiations broke off last Friday, Martino said "I am very disappointed, we should have had a deal today. I seriously thought we could reach agreement." Martino accused Steele of stalling.

"He's playing with the numbers and stalling by making information requests about medical insurance when we had a representative here a couple of weeks ago when those questions could have been asked, but they were not," Martino asserted.

Last week, the union brought forward a health care proposal which could save $80,000 in the first year, a step which could provide a key to settling the dispute.

"Other dollars could be saved using the budget they've got for the first year by reducing the number of hours budgeted for the full time drivers to work, the number of hours for the extra board operators and the part-time employees," Martino said.

During the lockout, Martino offered several times to bring the workers back by extending the previous contract. A federal mediator ruled in June that the agreement expired June 11. Management had earlier insisted that the old contract should remain in effect until next year. The union has filed federal charges of illegal and unfair labor practices over the company's attempt to extend the contract without negotiation.

The expired contract contains a no-strike/no-lockout clause. Last week, Steele wanted the contract extended six months, Martino offered one month. The workers will apparently return to work with no such stipulation in place.
Management has offered a two percent annual pay increase, below the rate of inflation.

"During the first seven months of 2002, the CPI-U (Consumer Price Index for Urban Consumers) rose at a 2.5 percent seasonally adjusted annual rate," according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics website.

If that rate were to hold for the term of a three-year contract, inflation would spike at 7.5 percent. One dollar today would be worth 92.5 cents in 2005.

RTC/TMW's offer of a two percent per year raise, or six percent over three years, means a real-dollar pay cut of 1.5 percent over three years.

A budget presented to the RTC Citizens Advisory Committee on August 21 projected an annual increase in wages and benefits at two percent per year all the way through 2007.

Implementation of the budget would leave the drivers, dispatchers and support workers at 1995 pay levels for 12 years, when adjusted for inflation.

"We will not be intimidated by this effort to break the union," driver Norma Alexander wrote to RTC Executive Director Krause on Wednesday.

Largely using strikebreakers imported from other states, the system has seen an increasing number of accidents, even at a reduced level of service. Replacement drivers crashed the system's brand new expando ("articulated") bus at Citicenter soon after the strike began.

Yesterday, a Citifare bus was involved in a head-on collision with a vehicle at Locust and Stewart streets in Reno. At least one of the auto's passengers was transported to a hospital. Union members shot viedotape at the scene.
The Reno Police Department did not return calls for additional information.

The Regional Transportation Commission meets at 9:00 a.m. PDT at the RTC garage and office complex, underneath US 395 South between Plumb Lane and Villanova Drive. Those wanting to attend must enter from the northeast side at Villanova and the 395 frontage road. The building stands next to Wooster High School, one block west of Reno-Tahoe International Airport.

Negotiations begin at 12 noon at John Ascuaga's Nugget Hotel-Casino in Sparks.


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