Corvallis bus drivers get contract

CORVALLIS - After more than two years at the bargaining table, approximately 50 members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 employed at Laidlaw Transit Inc. have a first-time contract. Laidlaw has contracts to operate bus service for the City of Corvallis and the Corvallis School District. The new pact runs through June 30, 2001.

Local 757 initially organized city transit operators in June 1997. Laidlaw, a multi-billion dollar corporation headquartered in Canada, filed an objection to the union election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), arguing that the bargaining unit should also include all Corvallis school bus drivers. A hearing took place and the regional office of the NLRB determined that the two groups of employees (city and school) were separate groups and could organize individually. Laidlaw disagreed and appealed the ruling to the NLRB in Washington, D.C.

Meantime, the school bus drivers employed at Laidlaw contacted the union seeking membership. And even though a majority of drivers wanted a union, the NLRB refused to accept their election petition, claiming that it could not make a proper unit determination until the issue involving city transit operators was resolved by the national NLRB.

Realizing that it might take a year or longer to get an official ruling from the NLRB in Washington, D.C., Local 757 decided to withdraw both petitions and refile as one bargaining unit.

Laidlaw employees at both the city and school district voted overwhelmingly for the union.

"We've been through mediation, unfair labor practice complaints, informational picketing, a one-and-a-half day strike, a prevailing wage ballot measure and a lot of hard work to get this first contract," said Ron Heintzman, president of Portland-based Local 757.

The new contract includes an approximately $1 an hour increase across-the-board given to operators on July 9, 1999. In addition, operators received a $175 ratification bonus, a 50 cents an hour (7.5 percent) across-the-board wage increase retroactive to Jan. 1, 2000, and a 3 percent across-the-board wage hike Jan. 1, 2001. Laidlaw also will pick up $125 per month toward employees' health insurance.

Corvallis voters approved a new prevailing wage law for city bus operators last November. The measure officially takes effect July 1, and the union is currently in discussions to reach an agreement on the starting prevailing wage. As a good faith effort, Heintzman said the city council approved a $2.50 an hour increase for city transit workers effective Jan. 1, 2000.

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