Rochester bus drivers, First Transit ratify contract
After more than a year of negotiations and failed agreements between Rochester bus drivers and their employer First Transit, the drivers on Sunday voted to ratify a three-year labor contract.
Sunday's vote was the fourth during the negotiation period, and 90 percent of First Transit's 55 bus drivers and dispatchers who operate Rochester Public Transit's system voted for the contract. The employees already are halfway through their contract, which began Jan. 1, 2013, and runs through the end of 2015.
They had been working under an extended contract that expired Jan. 1. There was no strike or disruption of service, but some members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005 picketed at downtown bus stops and attended Rochester City Council meetings with protest signs.
The main sticking point in the negotiations had been First Transit's proposal to change the wage scale for employees during their first two years of service. The drivers and dispatchers rejected three tentative agreements, trying to protect future employees, union officials and drivers said.
In the ratified contract, all existing employees will receive a 2 percent wage increase in each of the three years. They will be compensated with back pay from April 1, 2013, said the union's president, Mark Lawson.
Also, the contract established a starting rate for new employees that lasts six months. After that, they move into the first step of the pay scale. It's a compromise for both parties because: The old pay scale immediately started new employees on the first step; and First Transit's proposed changes would have significantly decreased wages for new employees in the first two years, Lawson said.
"Everybody gave something on this, so I think that's one of the reasons why you saw the members finally vote yes. We felt we had gotten many of the things we were looking for," he said.
First Transit spokeswoman Stephanie Creech did not return phone calls for this report.
Also part of the new contract is First Transit's ability to change the ratios for how shared expenses will be paid within the employees' health care plans during each year. In the previous contract, dollar amounts were set. Now, as health care costs change, First Transit will be able to adjust the sharing percentages, Lawson said.
He said members of the union are relieved that the contract is settled.
"It is nice to be able to move on and keep providing good transit service in Rochester. That's the goal of everybody, and it's nice not to have this hanging over everybody's head," he said, adding that the bus drivers and dispatchers never wanted to disrupt service for the citizens.
"We were doing information picketing and talking to the city council, but the buses kept running. They kept showing up for work and kept the service on track as much as they could. You know, they don't want to hurt the people of Rochester," Lawson said.
Rochester Transit and Parking Manager Tony Knauer said that from his outside perspective, the First Transit employees are a good team.
"These are local people who care about what they do, and that's always been true with the drivers. They really care about the community," he said.