Bus union talks amicable, but economic issues loom | AspenTimes.com
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Bus union talks amicable, but economic issues loom

Jeremy Heiman

A second session of negotiations between the Roaring Fork Transit Agency and union representatives has ended with some tangible progress.

But a negotiator for the Amalgamated Transit Union warned that more difficult talks may lie ahead.

“We’re not fighting with each other yet, but I imagine next time we’re going to have some arguments,” said Don Hansen, an ATU vice president and professional negotiator.

The participants expect the discussion to turn to economic issues in an April session, and compromises may not be as easy to reach, he said.

Both sides were deliberately vague as to what the talks have achieved. RFTA operations manager Paul Hilts said the parties have agreed not to disclose the details of agreements, so as not to jeopardize their gains in the negotiations.

Hansen said the recent talks covered grievance procedures, management rights, bidding procedures for driving shifts and perhaps a dozen other matters.

“We agreed on some, and others we didn’t,” Hansen said.

“There’s been some sticky issues,” Hilts said. “But quite a few points have been agreed on.”

Economic issues still to be covered include wages, pensions and medical benefits.

“Those are the big-ticket items,” Hansen said. “We may have some issues we can’t resolve without political help.”

Hilts was a bit more optimistic about upcoming conversations.

“We view things a little differently,” he said, “but you just never know. Everyone seems willing to listen and come to solutions.”

The March round of negotiations was held Wednesday and Thursday in a meeting room in the Colorado Mountain College building next to RFTA’s bus barn. Hansen and drivers Ron Kinnell and Joe Wertz attended for the ATU. Along with Hilts, RFTA was represented by professional negotiator Tom Hock, RFTA personnel director Beth Barnes and operation managers John Hocker and Kent Blackmer.

Hilts said having professional negotiators was working out well.

“Having that kind of expertise on both sides will expedite this process,” he said.

The next set of talks is set for April 11 and 12. Hansen said the union hoped to have further discussions in April, but RFTA officials didn’t have further open dates until May.

“We can’t hurry things,” Hansen said. Negotiating with an organization that’s going through a major change takes patience, he said.

RFTA, now a bus company funded primarily by upper-valley governments, is becoming a rural transportation authority funded by seven valley governments and providing better service downvalley. It will also manage the former Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad right of way.

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