RFTA, Aspen bus drivers reach tentative labor deal

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Ed Cortez, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1774, represented bus drivers in collective bargaining with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.
Aspen Times file photo |

Representatives of the Roaring Fork Valley’s public-bus operator and the union for its drivers reached a tentative labor agreement Saturday night.

The bargaining teams for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1774 met Dec. 1 through Saturday to try to hammer out a labor agreement for 2016.

“We concluded our talks on Saturday after a marathon session,” said Ed Cortez, president and business agent for the union chapter. He was among the representatives for the union in the collective bargaining. The drivers voted 65-22 in March to join the union.

The proposed agreement will be reviewed by RFTA’s board of directors at its regular monthly meeting Thursday via the proposed 2016 budget. If the board approves the deal, it will go to the union members as quickly as possible for possible ratification, he said.

RFTA and the union agreed not to talk to the press or public about the proposal until after the board of directors votes on the matter, Cortez said. RFTA delayed approval of its 2016 budget until after the negotiations were scheduled, in case they affected expenditures. Pay and the speed at which drivers could get pay raises were expected to be major issues in the negotiations.

“I really believe it’s such a fair deal,” Cortez said. He added that he is “thinking positively” of how the board will receive it.

RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship was in a trial Monday and couldn’t be reached for extensive comment. He sent an email to the board of directors and RFTA personnel Saturday night that informed them about the tentative deal getting passed. He said agreement was reached in all articles of the 2016-18 collective bargaining agreement.

Blankenship said details of the labor agreement will be discussed with the board in an executive session, which is closed to the public, and then the board will vote on the budget. He said he believes the proposal is fair to RFTA and the union.

“A tremendous willingness to collaborate was demonstrated by the parties and everyone genuinely appeared to approach the negotiations with the best interests of RFTA in mind,” Blankenship wrote.

He later added, “I could not be more proud of the members of RFTA’s negotiating team, whose invaluable assistance and dedication made it possible to strike an accord with the union in record time.”