How has your agency negotiated cost-saving alternatives with unions?

 

Atlanta, Ga.

Deborah Dawson

Assistant General Manager of Human Resources

Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA)

Despite challenging financial times, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) and the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 732 (ATU 732) recently came together to ratify a collective bargaining agreement for the best interests of both labor and management. At the outset, the parties committed to being transparent, honestly sharing all economic data and being fair. The final agreement, which expires June 2013, was truly the result of a strong labor/management partnership.

The last agreement between MARTA and ATU 732 expired in February 2009 and was extended twice for a total of 18 months due to the unprecedented economic difficulties MARTA was experiencing. MARTA is extremely dependent on sales tax revenues, and when these revenues dropped precipitously, serious actions had to be taken. Ultimately, MARTA had to increase fares and reduce transit service, which led to cutting more than 700 positions -- including 300 layoffs -- in July 2010.[1]

In the midst of these significant challenges, negotiations began with MARTA having absolutely no money to offer, and the union having no choice but to begin negotiations. The overall context was very difficult. Bottom line, while MARTA serves as the 9th largest transit system in the country, its represented employees rank as some of the lowest paid transit workers in the United States.[2]

Both sides recognized the “perfect storm” but committed to thinking outside the box while being as creative as possible in crafting an agreement. While lacking funds for base wage increases, MARTA agreed that a “running” balance sheet would be maintained for tangible changes resulting in documented savings -- with the net amount being paid to employees in the form of a lump sum payment.

The settlement includes increased uniform and tool allowances; relief on transfer restrictions; increased training pay; implementation of a “working suspension” program; perfect attendance bonuses; a new modified restricted duty program and – most importantly – the transition from a PTO program to traditional sick, vacation and holiday time entitlements, with language specifically crafted to address compressed work-week schedules (four 10-hour days).

MARTA was able to negotiate increased medical premium co-shares over a two-year period which will result in moving represented employees from an average co-share of 6% to 15% and 25% (for premium plans), as well as changes to the medical plan design resulting in higher office visit, emergency room and prescription co-pays and annual out-of-pocket maximums. Other efficiencies were achieved in run cutting and a new plan for employee attendance. Following the contract’s ratification by ATU members in November 2010, the net savings were paid to employees in a lump sum payment that they received in late December 2010.

Currently, serious work is underway at our state and local level to develop and fund a significantly expanded transit system that will truly serve the entire Atlanta region. MARTA’s ability to effectively perform as the backbone of a regional transit system is integral to the success of the initiative. Recognizing this, MARTA and ATU 732 agreed to this immediate tactical action in order to yield a positive end result for both sides and prepare for the future growth of transit in the Atlanta region.

To this end, management and labor have worked together to advocate for much needed, first-time dedicated public transit funding by the State of Georgia and expanded transit funding across the greater Atlanta region. Those efforts were helpful in achieving passage of theTransportation Investment Act of 2010 which provides for a statewide one-cent transportation sales tax referendum in summer 2012 – a first for the State of Georgia. Following the results of this funding referendum, the new contract provides for “a wage reopener” discussion no earlier than Aug. 15, 2013 and no later than Dec. 15, 2012.

This agreement is an excellent example of labor and management working together in a “down economy” for the common good of both sides. While not perfect, each partner was able to achieve the “best” deal possible under the current financial circumstances.

 

 

 

 


 

[1] MARTA had already instituted cost containment measures for non-represented employees. Such measures include mandatory two weeks of unpaid furlough; increased contributions to medical premium co-shares; and wage freezes. These measures were instituted in FY 2010 and remain in place today.

 

 

[2] According to the October 2010 Dash Report, MARTA Mechanics are in the 135th position and Fixed Route Bus Operators are in the 138th position.

 

 

 

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