January 19, 2007 Volume 108 Number 2

Bend bus drivers campaign to join ATU Local 757

BEND — Four Central Oregon labor groups are rallying behind three-dozen bus drivers who will vote Jan. 29 whether to unionize with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757.

The drivers are employed by Paratransit Services, a non-profit company based in Bremerton, Wash.

On Jan. 10, the Central Oregon Labor Council, the Central Oregon Building Trades Council, the Oregon School Employees Association, and Central Oregon Jobs with Justice issued a statement of “solidarity” with the transit employees.

Labor Council Secretary-Treasurer Jerry Fletcher, who is also president of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 280, attended an organizing meeting of drivers. All four organizations stress that a level playing field during the union campaign can best be achieved through card-check recognition or, short of that, employer neutrality.

Since 2003, the City of Bend has contracted with Paratransit Services to provide door-to-door transportation for people with disabilities. Last year the city added bus service along six fixed routes to the contract.

Seeking better wages and increased job security, several drivers contacted Portland-headquartered Local 757 in November to talk about unionizing. Wages for the Bend drivers currently top out at $12.25, while union bus drivers in nearby locales earn several dollars an hour more. Local 757 represents drivers at transit districts up and down Western Oregon, but none thus far in Central Oregon. ATU locals in Seattle and Tacoma represent other units of Paratransit Services.

Shortly after the union filed for an election, the company sent employees a four-page letter outlining its opposition and urging drivers to “vote against the union and suggest you encourage others to do the same.”

In mid-January, management held a series of mandatory-attendance anti-union meetings from which pro-union workers were excluded. Workers are reportedly being told that they may lose their jobs if they vote the union in. They might get the low wages of one ATU contract in Alaska, but pay the higher dues of a local in Seattle.

ATU International Rep Ron Heintzman, a former Local 757 president, hopes workers will resist the scare talk. Heintzman recently bargained a contract with Paratransit in Port Angeles, Wash., and said the company does bargain fairly when employees stand firm.

And it’s a good time to unionize, Heintzman said — Bend bus service is likely to double in the next few years, and will undergo lots of changes. Having a union will make sure workers’ interests are represented as it grows.

“They (drivers) want the same right to bargain that police, fire and others in the City have,” Heintzman said.

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