RFTA drivers will unionize | AspenTimes.com

RFTA drivers will unionize

Jeremy Heiman

Bus drivers for the Roaring Fork Transit Agency will unionize under the Amalgamated Transit Union.

Of the 86 drivers eligible to vote, 49 chose to unionize and 25 voted against; 12 abstained. No meetings are scheduled yet, but union representatives and RFTA could begin working on a contract as soon as next week.

“It’s just going to bring more professionalism to the organization,” said driver Ron Kinnell, who led the union effort. “We’ve got the best union in the industry.

“It means we have a voice, finally,” he continued. “It’s quite a sound majority, and I think it’ll let management know we want some changes.”

RFTA general manager Dan Blankenship said he thinks unionization will work out for the best.

“I’m optimistic we’ll be able to work together,” Blankenship said. “I think, for the most part, everybody here respects one another. We’ll work hard to cooperate.”

One of the positive aspects of a union organization is that there’s less uncertainty, he said, adding that nearly everything is spelled out in a contract, so everyone knows where they stand.

Blankenship said those participating in creating the agreement will be looking at other transit union contracts with an eye toward copying the best features. Kinnell said union organizers from the ATU’s international office will participate in writing the contract for the drivers.

“I’m just hoping management will work with us and try to get this contract written as soon as possible,” Kinnell said.

In July 1998, RFTA drivers rejected an effort to organize themselves under the United Transportation Union. This week’s election was successful, Kinnell said, because an alternative to unionizing failed since the last union effort.

“We tried management’s solutions, creating a board to deal with grievances,” he said, “and it didn’t work. It was only a political thing.”

The drivers’ primary complaint was low wages. But other issues were also important in the drive to unionize, Kinnell said.

One sore point is that RFTA, at times, has given the most desirable shifts to driver-supervisors with lower seniority.

The Amalgamated Transit Union was founded in 1892 and now has 14.5 million members. Drivers for Greyhound and the Denver area’s RTD are represented by the ATU, which is said to be the largest transit union in the world.

Kinnell said RFTA’s union organization will be run locally, rather than from union headquarters, and he’s optimistic that everything will be aboveboard.

“I think it’s going to be run very clean,” he said.

Colorado is an “open-shop” state, meaning workers who don’t want to join a union can’t be forced to join or to pay dues.

Both Kinnell and Blankenship said driver unionization won’t be affected by the implementation of the Rural Transportation Authority, which was approved by Roaring Fork Valley voters Nov. 7.

The intergovernmental agreement which controls the RTA provides that it will be phased in over 18 months, with new buses, new maintenance facilities, more than 40 new employees and new policies falling into place over that time, Blankenship said.

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