Union battle, fare increases and budget cuts for bus service
After more than three months of negotiations, Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit workers, represented by United Auto Workers Local 2300, recently rejected a contract proposed by management by a 76-9 vote.
During the past few months, UAW Local 2300 and TCAT have been in a contract dispute over TCAT’s position to deny wage increases, increase benefit costs and require UAW members to contribute to their current healthcare policy, which TCAT said in a Dec. 2 press release it can no longer sustain given its $530,000 budget deficit.
UAW Local 2300, which includes bus drivers, mechanics and custodians, has been negotiating with TCAT, Inc. since August. UAW Local 2300 President Jack Kaminsky said the contract was rejected because it did not include a “Me Too” clause.
“To put it simply, it’s a clause stating that if extra funding should happen to come TCAT’s way, it would be shared not only with management personnel but also with the UAW members,” Kaminsky said.
Frank Howells, TCAT driver and chairman of the local UAW workers, has been at the forefront of negotiations.
“There was a vote taken and members expressed their non-acceptance of the proposal by an overwhelming majority,” Howells said. “We have contacted the mediator to return to the bargaining table in hopes of reaching a fair and equitable contract for the membership as soon as they’re ready to schedule a meeting.”
The union has contacted a federal mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, a Syracuse-based independent government agency that looks to resolve labor disputes.
On Dec. 1, TCAT’s Board of Directors unanimously approved a budget of $12.8 million for 2012. At the private meeting, the board also looked at routes with fewer riders and consolidated some to curb costs, according to the press release. In addition, the board approved a measure to increase the price for rural riders from $1.50 to $2.50, which will go into effect on Jan. 15. The higher fee will only be imposed on riders who are traveling from outside the Ithaca area into the city. For those traveling outbound to rural zones, the fee will remain at $1.50. The increase will have little impact on Cornell and Ithaca College students.
TCAT Board Member David Lieb addressed the concerns regarding the increase to rural riders in the Dec. 2 press release.
“The rural service is the most expensive to run, and we realize its importance,” Lieb said. “We are well aware that there are transit-dependent riders in these outlying communities that are facing economic challenges; we realize, too, that there are urban residents who face the same challenges. We believe it is equitable to charge more for long trips that are costly to run, than for short, highly-efficient trips in the urbanized area.”
Patty Poist, communications and marketing manager for TCAT, said the sluggish economy has resulted in both loss of funding from outside services as well as the need to make cuts within their organization. She said the organization is dealing with significant losses in state funding.
“For the fourth year in a row, we expect our funding to remain flat,” Poist said. “Everybody’s in the same economic downturn, so it’s very hard to raise revenues in this environment.”
Also for the fourth consecutive year, TCAT’s ridership has increased, up 13 percent in 2010 according to Poist. The American Public Transportation Association recently named TCAT a 2011 Outstanding Public Transportation System in North America.
“We’re known as being a small transit agency that offers big city service,” Poist said.
The news also comes as New York state cut funding for the bus service. A bulk of TCAT’s revenue, about 33 percent, comes from the state, according to Poist. Locally, the City of Ithaca, Tompkins County and Cornell University account for 20.4 percent of revenue; passenger revenue accounts for 10.5 percent; Federal Operating Assistance provides 11.4 percent in revenue, with the remaining revenue coming from advertising. Ithaca College subsidizes student fares to encourage ridership, but does not contribute directly to TCAT.
Pete Meyers, coordinator of the Tompkins County Workers’ Center, said he’s curious as to what percent of TCAT ridership is related to Ithaca College faculty, staff and students.
“Ithaca College is not paying into the system at all,” Meyers said. “Why is Cornell a part of the system but not IC?”
Kaminsky said that while the workers rejected the contract, the union is willing to continue negotiations.
“We are working on scheduling, everybody’s schedule is conflicting at this point in time,” Kaminsky said. “But we do hope to get back to the bargaining table in the near future.”
Pete Blanchard is a senior journalism major who would like to travel by public trolley. Email him at pblanch1[at]ithaca[dot]edu