Transit Workers OK New Contract

A labor impasse between managers of Greater Cincinnati's Metro bus system and its transit workers appears to be near an end.

Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 627 voted Tuesday to accept a new three-year labor contract with the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA). The final tally was 409-49.—-

SORTA's board of trustees will meet Friday, and is likely to approve the pact then,

Roughly 676 Metro bus drivers, mechanics, and operational support employees are covered by the new contract, which establishes wages, benefits and work rules.

Employees had been working under the terms of the previous contract, which expired Jan. 31, while negotiations continued.

Under the new contract, workers will receive a lump-sum payment of $500 this year, in addition to their salaries. Also, they will receive a 1 percent wage increase four times during the next three years, in February 2012, August 2012, February 2013 and August 2013.

Additionally, SORTA will provide three health-care insurance plans to employees, and they can choose which one best fits their needs. The plans are a high-deductible plan with $2,000 single/$4,000 family deductibles; a high-deductible health plan with $1,500 single/$3,000 family deductibles; and a PPO plan.

The union's vote ends negotiations that began in December and that hit a snag on Feb. 1, when SORTA trustees rejected the recommendations in a state fact-finder's report.

"Both union and management have struggled with how to give our employees a fair, competitive package while remaining fiscally responsible in these lean budget times, said Terry Garcia Crews, Metro's CEO & general manager, in a prepared statement. “This contract meets the needs of employees and the taxpayers who fund our service and can be accommodated within our 2011 budget."

Mark Bennett, ATU Local 627's president, indicated union leaders worked hard to avoid a strike.

“Wages and health insurance costs were the major issues for us,” Bennett said in a prepared statement. “ATU recognizes the importance of transit to the community, and we stayed at the bargaining table to hammer out an agreement that would provide good wages and benefits for our employees while recognizing Metro's budget constraints.”

Metro provides about 19 million passenger trips annually, or about 57,000 to 60,000 trips daily. Also, the agency has a contract with Cincinnati Public Schools, and provides about 7,000 trips for the district each day.

SORTA is an independent agency, but any fare increase requires City Council's approval because about half of Metro's $84 million annual budget comes from a portion of the city's earnings tax. Also, Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials each appoint members to SORTA's board of trustees.

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