Corvallis bus drivers stage one-day walkout

Corvallis municipal and school bus drivers staged a one-day walkout March 30 to send a message to the Corvallis City Council, the School Board, and Laidlaw Transit, Inc. The message: after 15 months of exasperating negotiations for a first contract, the drivers, represented by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757, aren't willing to continue working at the poverty wage Laidlaw provides, and they want the City Council and School Board to mandate that all future contracts for bus service will include a starting wage of at least $8 an hour.

Laidlaw recently agreed in principle that it would be willing to pay a minimum of $8 an hour, but the company argued that if it did so, it would be at a competitive disadvantage in bidding for renewal of its contracts with the City of Corvallis and the Corvallis School District.

Though there is sizable and growing public support for two union-backed bus operator prevailing wage initiatives, drivers aren't willing to wait another year for long overdue pay raises. That's what contract negotiations are for, and if the city council and school board agree to intervene as the union is requesting, that will remove Laidlaw's last remaining objection to a labor agreement.

While the local daily newspaper, the Corvallis Gazette-Times, has editorialized against the union, the local public appears to be quite well-informed about the conflict, and supportive of the union, said Local 757 President Ron Heintzman.

Meanwhile, in Portland, 205 school bus operators were prepared to walk off the job when their strike notice expired March 26. Instead, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 757 called an April 2 meeting for workers to consider a new four-year contract offer from Laidlaw Transit, Inc., which contracts with the school district for bus service.

The latest offer contains improvements over a proposal workers rejected March 11, including a 3 percent annual wage increase retroactive to April 1998, not September 1998 as it had previously offered. Laidlaw also backed away from a proposal to cut its contribution for insurance benefits, and was more specific on a vision plan for employees.

These improvements in the company's proposal eliminated the only remaining differences between its and the union's final offer, said Heintzman.

Starting pay for the Portland drivers is currently $8.50 an hour; the top pay rate is $10.50. Drivers also get a 50-cent-an-hour bonus for good attendance.

Heintzman said that regardless of whether workers approve the new offer, the union will continue to press an unfair labor practice charge filed against the company with the National Labor Relations Board.

April 2, 1999 issue

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