Guest column: The problem with unions
Tim Honan, Member, RFTA Organizing Committee
The problem with unions is that there aren’t enough of them. The decline of unions in America can be attributed to many reasons; however, the one thought to be most prevalent can be attributed to current labor laws protecting workers. This legislation has created an atmosphere that lulls people into thinking that unions are antiquated and that there is no more use for them.
On the contrary, it is the belief of many bus operators at the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority that unionization is the only answer to the plight drivers have been facing in the workplace over the years and wish to resolve. Their struggle to create a working environment that ensures workplace security as well as economic equality continues today in their effort to unionize and join the Amalgamated Transit Union. On Friday, the Colorado Department of Labor will count mail ballots submitted by the 115 RFTA full-time, year-round commercial driver’s license drivers eligible to vote. A vote in the affirmative will change the face of labor in the Roaring Fork Valley forever.
There are many issues facing RFTA drivers and RFTA management. All will be aired at a point in time in the future when RFTA drivers, as a collective-bargaining unit, undertake the task of negotiating a collective-bargaining contract with RFTA management.
To date, the most prevalent issue facing both parties is assigning a dollar amount to what RFTA drivers consider a fair and equal wage. Most RFTA drivers consider the present RFTA wage model obsolete and believe it requires immediate attention. However, RFTA drivers believe progress on this issue is now possible based on recent communication provided by RFTA management.
To paraphrase a recent memo from RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship dated Feb. 16, 2015, Blankenship states:
“The cost of living in Glenwood Springs is 7.5 percent higher than Denver. RFTA’s starting wage of $18 per hour for CDL Bus Operators is approximately 15 percent higher than Denver-RTD starting wage of $15.64 per hour.
“RFTA’s top hourly wage of ($25.86) for Full-Time Year-Round CDL Bus operators is approximately 26 percent higher than Denver-RTD top hourly wage for Full Time Bus Operators of $20.50 (effective March 1, 2015).”
We, the RFTA drivers, appreciate Blankenship’s use of the Regional Transportation District model. Using that RTD contract, negotiated by the Amalgamated Transit Union, is an appropriate model for evaluating fair and equal wages for this area using RTD’s wage-increase formula. RTD provides an excellent apples-to-apples comparative. Of course, there is more to it than just wages paid. At the inner core is a wage-progression apparatus. In Denver, it takes 4½ years to achieve top wage. Presently, at RFTA, it takes as many as 15 years to reach top wage. For this acknowledgment and recognition of the RTD wage progression model, we, the RFTA drivers, doubly thank RFTA and the RFTA Board of Directors.
Thank you, Blankenship and the RFTA Board of Directors, for embracing the RTD contract model for wages and wage progression. It is a great place to start our future and hopefully fruitful negotiations.
Thanks specifically to:
Dan Blankenship, CEO, RFTA
Michael Owsley, Pitkin County
Jacque R. Whitsitt, town of Basalt
Steve Skadron, city of Aspen
Stacey Bernot, town of Carbondale
Kathy Chandler-Henry, Eagle County
Ted Edmonds, Glenwood Springs
Bob Gordon, New Castle
Markey Butler, Snowmass Village
We, the RFTA drivers, are only interested in supporting a RFTA bus system that is efficient, safe and considers equal pay for equal work. When institutions fail to take care of their workers, when other corporate priorities render workers a commodity, then a union built on the consensus of the worker becomes necessary. In the current marketplace, job descriptions are expanding and wages remain the same. Workers do more for less while product and service quality suffers as well as quality of life. Change is needed.
As votes are still being sent in, we cannot say for sure whether a union will be formed, but I am sure the drivers will look forward to a more realistic and fair wage progression model than the one currently being employed by RFTA.
Ed Cortez is chairman of the RFTA Organizing Committee. Tim Honan is a member of the RFTA Organizing Committee.
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