RFTA drivers push for union | AspenTimes.com

RFTA drivers push for union

Jeremy Heiman

Drivers with the Roaring Fork Transit Authority are again pushing to unionize the valley’s bus agency.

Drivers have called for an election next month to determine whether they will be represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union. An effort to organize RFTA drivers under a different labor union in the summer of 1998 was unsuccessful.

Two drivers reported to be involved with the effort did not return a call from The Aspen Times, but the issues are said to include dissatisfaction with scheduling and with the agency’s method of dealing with grievances. The effort does not include RFTA mechanics or other agency employees.

RFTA officials were informed of the union effort Oct. 3. RFTA General Manager Dan Blankenship said the election hasn’t been scheduled by the controlling regulatory agency, the state’s Division of Labor, but a petition presented by drivers sets a tentative date of Nov. 13.

Drivers signed cards indicating their support for unionizing, and union organizers apparently thought they had enough responses to make an election worthwhile. But the Division of Labor will decide whether a union election is actually held.

RFTA has about 90 drivers who would be eligible to vote in an election, Blankenship said, though the roster may increase by 25 or 30 during the winter season. The ballot question will be a simple “yes” or “no,” and a simple majority is all that is needed.

Blankenship said RFTA will not use a consulting firm to create a public relations campaign as it did in 1998. But labor attorney Stan Damas is acting as a go-between with the Division of Labor and is advising RFTA to make sure the agency isn’t involved in any unfair labor practices, he said.

RFTA’s board of directors, made up of local officials and citizens, discussed the union issue in yesterday’s meeting. The two conclusions reached, Blankenship said, were that it’s the employees’ right to seek collective bargaining, and the board is confident that the drivers will continue to deliver the highest level of service whether they unionize or not.

“There’s not a lot of anxiety about this from the board’s perspective,” Blankenship said. He said he recognizes that most transit systems of RFTA’s size are unionized, and at some point, he expects RFTA will be, too.

“It’s not the end of the world, from my perspective,” Blankenship said. “The most important issue is that we continue to maintain and improve our transit system.”

Far more important than the union election, Blankenship said, is the one that will take place on Nov. 7. Voters will have the opportunity to approve the creation of a rural transportation authority, which would give RFTA a larger tax base and allow it to increase its level of service in the lower Roaring Fork Valley.

Blankenship said he’s taken steps to determine what the agency can do if the RTA isn’t embraced by voters. Service reductions and fare increases are possible, he said. Staff reductions are also probable for the agency, which has operated at a deficit in the last two years.

“We’ll do the best with whatever system we have,” Blankenship said. “But it’s vitally important that we keep these services available.

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