How to Avoid a Transit Strike in Austin, Texas

Editorial

IndyMedia Austin

Here’s some unsolicited advice for the bosses at Capital Metro, the
bare-bones transit system of Austin, Texas. Now is not the
time to be pushing American workers to the wall.

Top hourly wages of $18-$21 (which translate into annual salaries of
about $40,000) are in no way unreasonably high living wages in this city, so
there is no reason to attempt to lower them through a two-track salary
system which would reduce pay for new employees.

Before you consider pressing for cuts in salary and benefits, you
should consider the reputation that you will have as a premier employer
in the Austin area, entrusted with a business that is by, for, and of
the people.

What calls for your management genius is not the size of stick you’ll
need to bully your trained professionals who drive the streets and keep
the buses running at all hours.


To comment on this story, please see comment blog.
No, the people of Austin, and fellow workers, need your management
skills to figure out how to best organize your operators and mechanics
in such a way that their hard work is the most productive for people
who need to get from one end of your proud city to the other, with as
much speed and flexibility as possible.

Suffice it to say your reputation as managers is not the
greatest. How else do you explain the fact that 80 percent of the
Capital Metro workforce is unionized, deep in the heart of this
Right-to-Work state, and that they have taken their first-ever strike vote this year in response to your union-busting attitude?

And if you’re hard at work on the reputation of your transit agency,
why does the myth of ’empty seats’ prevail at the
editorial board of the daily paper? Here’s one thing anyone can
try who worries about empty seats on the streets of Austin, Texas. Get
on the 350 Southbound bus at Highland Mall and as you
cruise along Airport Drive, count the number of empty seats you see in
the passing cars. A typical count yields an average of one driver
per car, with three or four seats to spare.

If your bus operators were not moving about 82,000 passengers per day,
we would need about that many more cars on the streets of Austin. Last
week, the City Council learned that ‘Mobility Issues’
(parking, traffic congestion, & construction) are what the people
of Austin would like to see solved first. Before you push your
workers hard into a striking position, maybe you should chat with your
Council colleagues about the need to maintain mobility and living wages
for all workers of Austin.

Indeed, when you count ALL the empty seats on the streets of Austin,
there is an amazing inefficiency in our transit system, and the cost of
that inefficiency is rising every day in terms
of the damage it does to life quality, pocket books, and ground
water. Solving that problem is something you would find more
worthy of your lasting
honor than pushing workers from the lower middle class another step
down on the opportunity ladder. Why not be proud to supply
workers to this city who can enjoy themselves somewhat?

In the contract negotiations that resume August 4th and 5th, we
recommend you apologize for that ‘scare tactic letter’ that you sent to
your employees this week and instead bring to the table your own
promise made in this year’s
printed budget to: "Continue promoting positive labor relations and
fostering the relationship with collective bargaining representatives,
including continuing to focus on the utilization of interest based
bargaining techniques" (see pdf page 98, budget page 94). It’s
not too late to reverse the betrayals of this promise that have
occurred since negotiations officially began in April.

As for ‘zero-tolerance’ in drug use, let’s keep our wits about us,
shall we? In this age of cell phones, any noteworthy impairment
on the part of a bus driver is going to get called on right away.
Riders are not going to put up with it. Of course, workers should
be allowed to take drug rehab as a condition of their
re-employment.

If you refuse to help keep Austin weird, at least
help keep it sane. The practical value of
this so-called point of disagreement has been blown out of proportion
by a ‘zero-tolerance’ editorial board that makes lots of money off of Austin’s party scene. Again, we might suggest
logging some realistic hours as a bus rider. Believe me, it’s not the
bus operators you have to worry about out there.

On this note it is especially deceptive for the local editorial board
to try and blame operators for the fact that a strike would most hurt
those for whom car driving is simply not an option. You’d have to
ride the bus sometime in order to see that on any given day it is the
bus operators who make it their business to move even the least
able. Note to editorial board: nobody needs your guilt
trip. All the operators are asking is fair treatment. In
American labor history, that’s what strikes are about.

So we’re not onboard for your proposed changes in pay for overtime or
split routes. If driver awakeness is really something you are
concerned about, you will keep the overtime limit at 8 hours per day
rather than 40 hours per week. The 8-hour overtime policy is the
safer one for your riders.

If the voters of Austin some day decide that they want to abolish their
city transit system then so be it. But so long as voters want it,
and so long as you are in charge of that public trust, we implore you,
do not use your political clout to bully your workers. Instead,
help keep Austin moving–on the streets and in the negotiating
rooms. Do not put the brakes on work quality or transit
efficiency. You can easily avoid this strike. All it will
take is about a dollar’s worth of good faith.

Take it from a frequent bus rider: your operators are gettin’ it done. They deserve your respect, not your threats.

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