RFTA union contract talks could last up to six months | AspenTimes.com

RFTA union contract talks could last up to six months

Jeremy Heiman

An agreement on a contract between the Roaring Fork Transit Agency and the Amalgamated Transit Union could take anywhere from two to six months, a veteran union negotiator said yesterday.

Officials of the union will meet with RFTA management for the first time this morning to schedule contract negotiating sessions. ATU International Vice President Don Hansen, ATU Special Representative Janis M. Borchardt, and two drivers will meet with RFTA General Manager Dan Blankenship, Operations Manager Paul Hilts and attorney Paul Taddune.

Hansen, who hails from Tenino, Wash., is a veteran contract negotiator for the union, with experience dating back to the 1960s. Borchardt, of Madison, Wis., specializes in building new local organizations. Both are former bus drivers.

Today’s meeting will determine when the first contract talks will be held and how much time away from work will be necessary for drivers who participate. General parameters for the meetings, such as whether they will be conducted during the day or at night, will also be handled.

Because Hansen has a busy schedule, traveling between different locations, his availability will be a factor in scheduling meetings, he said.

“We’ll try to be here as much as we need to,” Hansen said. “We’d like to finish it in two months.”

But he expressed doubt that a contract could be completed in that time, saying it could take as long as six months because of some challenging issues that the group faces.

One of the primary hurdles, Hansen said, will be writing a contract which accommodates the seasonal nature of bus service in the Roaring Fork Valley. Part-time drivers and seasonal drivers will add complexity to the contract.

A second hurdle is the fact that the Rural Transportation Authority, approved in last month’s election, will be taking shape at the same time the union contract is being written. Structuring the new, expanded valleywide bus service is sure to complicate scheduling issues and stretch out the contract process, he said.

It’s not known what period the contract will cover, Hansen said. Driver contracts might be as long as five years or as short as one. He said management generally has a lot to say about what goes into a contract.

“The contract is usually 50-50,” he said. “We’re not here to run everything.”

The key issue with RFTA drivers is wages, but scheduling and seniority will also be important in the contract.

“Their handbook is relatively good,” Hansen said, “but we think it needs to be modified a bit.”

Hansen said he doesn’t anticipate the negotiations sparking any hard feelings.

“I hope we’re going to have a congenial relationship,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I don’t have many enemies out there.”

“Ninety-eight percent of contracts get ratified without strikes,” Borchardt added.

The new local organization, dubbed ATU Local 1748, will take shape as the negotiations get under way, Borchardt said. She has already been in the valley off and on, talking with drivers.

“Whatever it takes to get a union local up in the first year, I do a lot of that kind of work,” she said.

The ATU was founded in 1892 and represents drivers in such organizations as Greyhound and Denver’s RTD. Other Colorado ATU locals represent drivers in Colorado Springs, Pueblo and the Douglas County school system.

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