Aug. 03--Talks between the management of Orlando's bus system and drivers seeking their first raise in four years ended after only two hours Tuesday with no agreement.
The two sides will meet again, but a date was not announced.
The problem, said Lynx CEO John Lewis, is that he could not provide solid budget numbers to officials of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents 350 drivers, plus 200 mechanics and other workers.
"They don't want to give anything prematurely when they can't get anything back," Lewis said of the union.
Norm Audet, a union spokesman and an 18-year veteran driver, agreed there was no point in talking without a budget.
"We wouldn't have any good numbers to negotiate with," Audet said.
In an earlier interview, Audet said a raise was the union's top priority. "We need to get somewhere [on salary]. Lynx has the ability to take us somewhere," Audet said.
Lewis, who promised to get a deal with the union when he was hired in November, said before Tuesday's session that "there's going to be some hard negotiating going on."
But afterward, he said, the two hours of talks amounted to "just conversation."
Lewis contends he is sympathetic to the union salary request But, Lewis said, he will need to find some cost savings before he can talk about raises.
"If I can find it [cuts], they will get it [raises], if the board approves," Lewis said.
The talks, which took place in a downtown Orlando hotel, are contingent on the five-member Lynx board signing off on whatever Lewis brings them.
That will not happen for a while because the board has not yet settled on a budget. Lewis should receive final numbers by September.
In the meantime, he said, he has a series of issues to pursue with the union. The last contract, covering three years, expired in 2009. Back then, talks devolved into an impasse over wages.
Audet said there is money to cover raises, which could cost a total of $2 million. That would be within a budget of about $112 million.
The biggest issue for the drivers, Audet said, is that Lynx suspended increases linked to experience. Drivers, he said, typically hire on at about 70 percent of the top pay of $19.81 an hour. They used to get an annual raise of about 3 percent to 4 percent until they reached the highest wage.
But that scale was frozen when the last contract expired, meaning no adjustments, regardless of experience.
Audet said he is not seeking back pay, but simply an adjustment in the hourly wage. The top rate would remain unchanged.
He contends the extra money should be available because Lynx appears likely to set a ridership record this year, which should create a record amount of fares, too. Lynx also has been cracking down on discount-ticket fraud, which also should bring in more money, he said.
"We're getting more revenue. I think it's time [for a raise]," Audet said.
Lewis, though, said fuel costs and other expenses are rising, causing him to look for reductions elsewhere in the budget. One savings possibility, he said, is the annual stipend awarded the union for uniforms and tools.
Often, he said, there is a year-end buying splurge, indicating to him that the allowance is too generous.
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Copyright 2011 - The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.