Bus agency taps experienced attorney for talks with union | AspenTimes.com

Bus agency taps experienced attorney for talks with union

Jeremy Heiman

The Roaring Fork Transit Agency has selected a labor relations consultant to help the agency in negotiations with the Amalgamated Transit Union.

Thomas Hock, a Cincinnati-based labor attorney, will take the lead for RFTA in contract talks when they start Feb. 7. The RFTA board of directors made the decision to hire Hock in its regular meeting Friday. Though no formal agreement exists yet, Hock has agreed to represent the agency.

RFTA General Manager Dan Blankenship, who worked with Hock at ATE Management Services in Wisconsin, recommended him to the board. ATE is a firm which manages transit systems for towns and other governments nationwide.

Hock will help RFTA officials understand the union’s proposals and help to draft counterproposals. He will also advise RFTA as to what should and shouldn’t be in the contract.

“I feel we need to have someone who has that amount of experience representing RFTA and the community,” Blankenship said. “He’ll help us navigate through the potential land mines that are out there.”

Hock’s rsum includes more than 300 labor agreements in 28 years.

Blankenship said one reason Hock was chosen was Don Hansen, the ATU vice president who will be representing RFTA’s drivers, mentioned Hock as someone he can work with.

Hock acknowledged he has frequently been across the negotiating table from Hansen. He’s now involved in a set of contract talks with Hansen and the ATU in Snohomish, Wash., he said.

“He’s an honest person,” said Hock. “The biggest thing is you have to believe and trust the person opposite you. He’s a person you can trust.”

Hock said he expects the talks with the ATU to be fairly routine, though a draft contract doesn’t yet exist.

“I represent management all over the country,” Hock said. “We don’t anticipate anything out of the ordinary with these talks.”

Blankenship said if negotiations run 12 to 15 days, as he anticipates, the cost of hiring Hock might run as high as $25,000 to $30,000. Hock’s fee is $150 per hour plus expenses.

He said representatives with less emotional involvement working at the forefront will make the talks less contentious. Experienced negotiators would bring the talks to a close more quickly, too, he said.

During the first round of talks, RFTA will take advantage of an opportunity to receive training in what’s called “interest-based negotiating.” The training will be provided by a representative of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

This approach to negotiations is based on each side explaining its needs at first, Blankenship said, rather than coming into talks with inflexible demands. RFTA can get up to 40 hours of free service from the agency.

“It’s based on brainstorming a solution,” he said.

The decision to hire Hock was made by the board in a closed session, and the board voted to exclude board member George Detko from that part of the meeting. Detko is an RFTA bus driver, appointed to the board by the city of Aspen.

Board members, supported by RFTA attorney Paul Taddune, reasoned, despite Detko’s protests, that it would be advisable to exclude him from the decision to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest. But Detko, for a time, stood firm.

“Paul provided me with the state law on this, and it’s black and white,” Detko said. “There’s no conflict of interest for me to sit on the board in these talks.”

“I don’t think there’s any conflict of interest,” said Aspen Mayor Rachel Richards. “But I think officials have to avoid the appearance of conflict.”

“Maybe there is no conflict,” Blankenship said, “but it appears to me there is. Employees could think you’re supplying this board with information we could use against them.”

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