With Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker creating national attention due to his plans to essentially eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees in his state, a lot of emphasis is being put on the future of labor rights and public employees.
However, one issue not getting the attention it might deserve is the fact that midsized Wisconsin transit systems might lose federal funding because the changes violate the 13c rules set down to protect transit worker rights in the Federal Transit Act, which dictates worker’s rights within a system must remain equal from the previous year.
With the midsized agencies getting more than 30 percent of their funding for the Federal Transit Administration, it could mean some significant cuts for these systems.
Andrew Johnson, deputy director of Waukesha Metro Transit in Waukesha, Wis. said unlike many other systems in Wisconsin, almost all of the employees in Metro are private workers contracted from Veolia Transportation. The fact Waukesha Metro doesn’t have public employees means the system doesn’t save any money under Walker’s changes to collective bargaining and Johnson said it also means the changes won’t mean a direct loss in funds.
However, in Wisconsin, Tier B transit systems like Waukesha Metro have all their federal funding pooled together by the state, which means the overall loss of funds will mean a cut in funding for Metro on top of other cuts Walker may make to regular transit funding.
“Indirectly, Waukesha will take a hit,” he said. “But the good news is that in the state a number of the transit systems have contracts in place with labor unions and that will stave off the problem for a little while because the collective bargaining law changes won’t affect existing contracts, but does mean we’ll have a problem in 2012 when those contracts start to expire.”
According to a recent Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo, the state received $60.9 million in federal operating transit aid and a total of $73.9 million in federal transit funding in 2010. Tier B transit systems, which serve populations between 50,000 and 200,000 people received a total of $19.1 million and Tier C systems, which serve areas with less than 50,000 residents, received $1.4 million.
The Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS), which is the largest in Wisconsin, received $21.3 million and is the only Tier A-1 system in the state. The memo states MCTS will largely not be affected by the potential loss of federal funds because it contracts with a private non-stock corporation called Milwaukee County Transport Service Inc., which collectively bargains with MCTS and not Milwaukee County.
About $27.3 million in state federal transit aid will most likely not be affected by the changes, but the remaining $46.6 million could potentially be withheld from the state. If the budget repair bill eventually becomes law, transit systems without existing labor contracts in place will immediately lose their funding.
While Wisconsin leaders look to figure out how their transit systems will be affected by the changes to collective bargaining, one state isn’t seeing any problems in collecting federal aid even though union workers can’t collectively bargain wages and benefits. Texas is a right to work state and since the 13c agreement was passed by federal leaders in the 1960s transit systems haven’t been forced to collectively bargain with union workers.
Ben Gomez, executive vice-president of Dallas Area Rapid Transit, said outside of police and fire employees, public sector union workers aren’t allowed to negotiate wages or benefits, but they can file grievances with the system in order to try and find a fair solution for wages and benefits.
But at the end of the day, Gomez said leaders still make final decisions in a unilateral basis and each transit system has its own agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor as to what meets the 13c agreement.