Local 1596

RTS in Gainesville Declares Impasse

Wages are at the heart of the disagreement between the two sides. In line with the City Commission's approved budget for this year, city administration is offering a a 1.5 percent pay increase and a one-time retention bonus equal to one-half of one percent of an employee's salary. The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1579 says the top pay an RTS driver may reach in a career, $16.92 an hour, is the lowest of any fixed route transit system in Florida or Georgia. The union also says it is nearly impossible for drivers and other workers to reach the top end of the pay scale through the merit-based pay raises the city now offers. This, ATU President Mary Frances Folz Donahue said, has RTS struggling to retain drivers. Instead of a 1.5 percent raise, the union is seeking a pay progression plan in which an employee's salary rises with his or her years of service. Tuesday, city staff's administrative team said it was working with a projected $110,000 budget for pay increases, and its projection was that the annual costs of what the ATU sought was about $540,000 in the first year. Scott Heffner, the city's chief negotiator, said there was a “considerable chasm” between the amount budgeted and what the ATU sought. “Money is always a factor, and it happens to be a very big factor right now,” he said. Gainesville Risk Management Director Steve Varvell said city staff was authorized to negotiate a one-year pay agreement, not a “long-term commitment.” The ATU called a news conference before the afternoon negotiating session to voice concerns over pay. At it, Folz-Donahue said drivers should make enough to be able to send their children to college and that maintenance workers should be able to afford a home. She said RTS has about 205 driver positions and, at one point, had 28 vacancies. She said that number is now below 20. Still, a high rate of turnover has the city paying out more in overtime to drivers on staff. Union representatives also said that drivers and workers who come in from another transit agency start out at the bottom of the pay scale instead of making more because of their prior experience. ”It doesn't matter what experience you have as a bus driver,” said Gary Rauen, the international vice president of the ATU. “When you walk in that door, it doesn't matter.”

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