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RFTA: Increase in wages is key

Jeremy Heiman

Better pay for drivers is by far the biggest issue behind the move to unionize Roaring Fork Transit Agency drivers, an organizer says.

RFTA drivers will vote next month on whether to organize under the Amalgamated Transit Union. The election date is to be established in a meeting today between RFTA, the drivers and the union.

Ron Kinnell, a RFTA driver and spokesman for the union organizing committee, said better pay is needed to make RFTA a better organization. He said with the high cost of living in the valley, RFTA is losing drivers to higher paying work after they’ve been trained.

“A dump-truck driver carrying a dead load of dirt gets paid more than the $12 an hour a starting RFTA driver makes,” Kinnell said. He said the organizers would like to see a starting wage up around $16 or $17 an hour. “I’m sure dump-truck drivers get more than that,” he said.

Many people in the valley work two or more jobs to afford the cost of living, Kinnell said. But RFTA drivers can’t do that because their jobs require alertness that could be compromised by lack of rest. In any case, a RFTA driver’s hours would make it impossible to schedule a second job. Better pay brings in good quality drivers, too, he said.

Though RFTA has been underfunded in recent years, Kinnell said, it won’t be impossible to get better wages. “If we put pressure on the management, they’ll find the money,” he said.

“I’m sure they’ll work with us,” he continued. “We’re professionals out there doing a hell of a job. We’re definitely not overpaid.”

Other issues are also important in the drive to unionize, he said. One sore point is that RFTA, at times, has given the most desirable shifts to driver-supervisors with lower seniority, taking those shifts away from more senior drivers. But resolutions to such problems may be on the way, he said.

Drivers who support unionizing also want to have a union steward to represent them at RFTA Board of Director meetings, to help steer the board toward policies that would favor the drivers.

The union will help RFTA drivers draw up a contract and will represent the drivers in negotiation with RFTA for wages and working conditions, Kinnell said. It also will help set up grievance procedures.

“We just want to work together and make it more effective than it has been,” Kinnell said.

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

If the work force votes to unionize, he said there will be no initiation fees, but union drivers will pay dues of about $30 per month. Rules will be written locally. Colorado is an open-shop state, he said, so no one will be forced to join.

Kinnell is confident the drivers will opt for the union this time.

“I think we’ve got a majority of the drivers who are willing to support us,” he said. In July 1998, RFTA drivers rejected an effort to organize them under the United Transportation Union.

But Kinnell said he thinks the drivers are more interested this time around. And the drivers have seen their peers leave RFTA for higher paying jobs or move to lower cost areas.

“We definitely need it,” he said. “We’re losing a lot of drivers.”


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