The wheels on the bus go round and round. For now.
After a sit-down with a federal mediator, Escambia County Area Transit employees and Veolia — the private company who manages the county’s public transit system — are no closer to reaching an agreement.
“It didn’t go very well, it didn’t go very well at all,” said Mike Lowery, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1395.
On Nov. 3, union members — along with a recently formed coalition supportive of their goals — plan to take their fight to the streets. Palafox Street specifically, where they will march from Martin Luther King Plaza to the Escambia County Commission’s public forum.
Employees have claimed they have not received sufficient pay increases, and that working conditions need improving. Last month, they went on strike for one day before being lured back to the negotiating table.
Lowery said Veolia officials “slid a piece of paper across the table” that staked out their position — one which mandated no pay increases and no walk-outs or strikes. The Union president also said employees were open to a scenario which would see each of the parties bring their three chief concerns before a neutral adjudicator, who’s judgement would be binding.
“They turned that down instantly,” Lowery said.
Kenneth Gordon, general manager of ECAT, said that the union needed to recognize that money does not exist to offer any wage increases. He pointed out that county employees were not getting raises, either.
“So, it’s not Veolia withholding revenues,” Gordon said. “It’s based on what we can afford.”
Gordon said he was not sure of what increases might be built into the company’s contract with the county. The ECAT general manager did say that he believed that Veolia may have voluntarily forgone some of its scheduled increases over the past few years.
“I think in the final year, they may have gotten one,” he said.
During its Nov. 3 address to county commissioners, Lowery said the union will press for Escambia County to take over the transit system.
“Yeah, that’s what we’re asking,” he said, adding that a gas-tax should be explored as a means of funding. “They need to step up and have a little guts here.”
Gordon doesn’t see a lot coming of that. “I feel pretty comfortable in saying no, the county has no intention of doing that,” the ECAT manager said.
Friday December 6th 2013