ATU Local 757 sues Laidlaw for violation of Corvallis wage law

CORVALLIS - Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 757 has filed a lawsuit against Laidlaw Transit Inc. claiming the company is violating the city's voter-approved prevailing wage law for bus operators.

In September 1999, Corvallis residents approved by a margin of 65-35 percent a ballot measure stipulating that wages and benefits for city bus operators be based on the wages and benefits of other bus operators within a 100-mile radius. The law went into effect July 1, 2000.

Laidlaw Transit has a contract to provide bus service for the Corvallis Transit System. Laidlaw also has a collective bargaining agreement with ATU Local 757 covering more than 50 operators and mechanics at both Corvallis Transit System and Corvallis School District.

Only the 14 city transit operators and mechanics fall under the prevailing wage law, however, because the ballot measure didn't cover the school district. The union contract covering wages, hours and benefits at Corvallis Transit was incorporated from the prevailing wage ordinance, which received input from Local 757.

ATU filed suit for breach of contract under the Fair Labor Standards Act March 8 in U.S. District Court in Eugene. It seeks $250,000 in damages, among other reimbursements. The union was required to file a civil lawsuit because the collective bargaining agreement with Laidlaw specifically says that neither party can use the grievance/arbitration procedure to enforce the provisions of the city contract.

The collective bargaining agreement for all bus operators at Laidlaw Transit expires in June.

Local 757 alleges that since the prevailing wage ordinance went into effect Laidlaw has cut full-time hours by nearly 40 hours per month, thus reducing employees' wages and benefits.

The lawsuit also contends that a health insurance plan that Laidlaw was required to provide employees falls short of the agreement and that they still have no evidence the company has started a 401(k) pension plan or paid for life insurance coverage, as is spelled out in the ordinance.

Canadian-based Laidlaw Transit is the largest transportation company in North America and has a notorious reputation for opposing labor unions, Local 757 asserted. In fact, it was Laidlaw's resistance to a union organizing campaign that led to the prevailing wage ballot measure in the first place.

Drivers and mechanics from both the city and school district first voted for union representation in 1997, but ran into one roadblock after another dealing with the company. They walked off the job several times and filled City Council meetings numerous times to protest shoddy treatment. They finally resorted to filing the prevailing wage initiative.

Laidlaw told the Corvallis Gazette-Times newspaper that it was complying with the wage law and, to date, city officials said they have found do wrongdoing but are still looking into it.

"We've asked the city to show us documentation that Laidlaw is in compliance," said Local 757 President Ron Heintzman. "We're astonished that they're taking the position that nothing is wrong. "Laidlaw is thumbing its nose at employees, the city of Corvallis, and the voters. We hope the city will step in and insist that Laidlaw honor its contract with them."

April 6, 2001 issue

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