PA: Transit Drivers, Mechanics Ramp Up Safety With Deal

Jan. 21--Westmoreland County Transit Authority drivers and mechanics have ratified a five-year labor deal that officials said will improve safety and security for passengers.

The contract with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1738 for the first time standardizes driver discipline and outlines how and when suspension and terminations can be implemented for unsafe operation of the buses.

"Safety plays a big factor for all of us. We wanted to keep our people safe and the passengers safe," union President David Merrill said.

Bus drivers and mechanics are not authority employees. They work for the authority's bus operator, Chicago-based National Express.

The contract, which provides raises for union members, was overwhelmingly approved last week, Merrill said.

The union had been working without a contract for 17 months. A strike was authorized last summer as negotiations bogged down.

"Our members didn't want to go that route, and that's why we stayed in there to work it out," Merrill said.

Bill Giordanengo, local manager for National Express, said there were no major accidents involving authority buses last year.

Giordanengo said about five small "fender benders" caused minor cosmetic damage to buses. No passengers or drivers were injured, he said.

The safety policy will assign points to drivers involved in incidents in which buses are damaged as a means to ensure unsafe drivers are taken off the road.

"Before, we had drivers who could have 10 or 12 incidents before anything was done," Giordanengo said.

Authority officials praised the contract.

"We're grateful it has been agreed to, and included in this contract are provisions to provide better security and safety for our riders and drivers," said authority Chairman Frank Tosto.

Union employees will continue to be subjected to random drug testing under terms of the deal, Giordanengo said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

Copyright 2014 - Tribune-Review, Greensburg, Pa.

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