After months of negotiations union representatives for AC Transit workers and AC management have come up with a tentative agreement. They claim this is a real gain for the workers. Of course some of the truly insane demands put on the table by management were discarded. But this is part of the normal bargaining process. Some of the so-called gains merely restore what was taken away in the last contract. In addition the union officials say that there aren’t any takeaways. Unfortunately this is not true. There are takeaways.
Wages and Benefits
First of all, the contract doesn’t restore the losses from the last contract. Three years of a wage freeze with no Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) was a huge loss. Small wage increases totaling 9.5% over three years with no COLA barely keeps up with the basic cost of living in the Bay Area. The last contract imposed payment on medical benefits as a percentage of our wage. Under the new contract it is a fixed amount – still this is a takeaway – and a big one for low seniority workers, who have to wait four years until they reach the full rate. This is six months more than the previous contract. And there is a re-opener on pensions.
The District’s policy is an insult to workers. Despite the picture presented to the public, driving and maintaining buses is not a picnic. So when people take time off it isn’t without a reason. People sometimes need an extra day or two to recover from long hours of driving, nerve-wracking encounters with passengers, or working in the yard with substandard equipment. In addition, as adults there are responsibilities that we need to deal with.
The discipline schedule for taking time off has been stepped up, with firing occurring after nine instead of ten absences over a year’s time.
Working Conditions – Scheduling and Breaks
The problem drivers face of NO guaranteed breaks and NO break rooms remains. Supposedly this was addressed in the last contract and nothing was done. Words on paper are no guarantee.
Drivers on some runs face impossible schedules. It is difficult to impossible to maintain them without speeding. And often drivers have to choose between eating, using the restroom or just taking a break and keeping on schedule. Unfortunately some drivers feel pushed and neglect their health rather than keep passengers waiting. This is NOT addressed in the contract.
And what about breaks, and lack of proper equipment that mechanics and service workers face? How is that addressed?
Dangling a few much-needed dollars in front of people doesn’t deal with the daily assaults on people’s health and safety. It doesn’t show respect.
A “No” Vote Is Only A Protest
These are just a few of the takeaways and problems we confront. A number of workers will vote NO on the contract because they are disgusted and angry. But to get a real change, just saying “NO” isn’t enough. Sending the bargaining team back to face off with management isn’t enough. How could they come back with anything different? And if it is sent to binding arbitration it could even result in something worse.
To get the respect we need reflected in wages, benefits and working conditions, AC workers are going to have to be organized to stand up for what we need. It would mean being prepared to use everything we have to show management that we are serious and there WILL be consequences if they keep disrespecting us like this.
It would mean reaching out to riders. As workers they can understand that when one group of workers is successful in their struggle, it sets an example and can help set a new standard for everyone, instead of us all sinking to the lowest level.
If we aren’t prepared to make the fight at this time, it isn’t over. We can begin to organize now for a fight later. Nothing will change from wishing and hoping and putting our faith in what others can do for us. Our future will only change when we decide to create it ourselves.