February 2, 2007 Volume 108 Number 3

Bus strike looms in Corvallis

CORVALLIS — Corvallis’s transit and school bus drivers turned thumbs down to a proposal by Laidlaw Transit, Inc. that, in effect, would rip up wage gains attained over the past six years.

More than 65 bus operators — 10 at the city and 55 at the school district — are represented by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757. Their contact expired on June 30, 2006.

On Jan. 23, bus operators voted overwhelmingly to reject Laidlaw’s contract proposal and at the same time authorized a strike.

Canadian-based Laidlaw Transit has contracts to provide public transit and school bus service in Corvallis. It is the largest transportation company in North America and is notorious for opposing unions.

Drivers from both the City of Corvallis and the school district joined Local 757 in 1997, but ran into one roadblock after another trying to get a first contract. They walked off the job several times and filled City Council meetings numerous times to protest shoddy treatment.

In fact, it was Laidlaw’s resistance to the union that led to a 1999 ballot measure in which Corvallis voters — by a wide margin — approved an ordinance stipulating that wages and benefits for city transit workers be based on the wages and benefits of other transit workers within a 100-mile radius. The prevailing wage law went into effect July 1, 2000.

The issue for city bus operators centers around a service contract between the City of Corvallis and Laidlaw. According to Ron Heintzman, an international vice president for the ATU and a former president of Local 757, wages in the bus operators’ first contract were patterned after the prevailing wage ordinance, and benefits mirrored those received by Corvallis city employees.

“We agreed to that because the city was anticipating taking bus service in-house,” Heintzman said.

That transition never happened.

To further complicate matters, the city didn’t update the minimum wage and benefit requirements when it renewed its service contract with Laidlaw.

As a result, when the union came looking for wage and benefit increases comparable to those received by city employees, Laidlaw refused, taking the position that unless the city changed its contract in regard to minimum wages and benefits, they wouldn’t agree to any changes.

That position has caused the parties to reach impasse, with the union contending that it will not be locked into a contract with no changes for life.

Heintzman said the union came to the bargaining table with 14 items, but narrowed its requests to just three: a 3.5 percent annual raise, an increase in life insurance from $20,000 to the annual wage of a driver, and sick leave pay-out comparable to city employees.

“Laidlaw’s position is totally unacceptable and to this point in time the city has done nothing to correct it,” he said, adding that any increases on Laidlaw could be directly passed though to the city.

In the school bus driver dispute, after six years the union was finally able to bargain a five-year step increase on wages. That step increase was ratified in the 2003 contract, but didn’t take effect until the last day of the contract (June 30, 2006).

As a concession to get the step increases, bus drivers agreed to take a wage increase on the last day of the contract, instead of at the beginning, which is typical in other contracts

In the proposal drivers rejected on Jan. 23, Heintzman said Laidlaw had eliminated step increases and gone back to the original wage structure, totally discounting the past six-year bargaining history.

Additionally, Laidlaw applied the June 30, 2006 raise to its new contract proposal — meaning they didn’t offer any raises for the first year of the proposed contract.

“These are strike issues,” Heintzman warned, “and our guys have given authorization to do so.

“The question now is whether the parents of Corvallis K-12 students are willing to jeopardize their children’s safety to a Canadian corporation that is only interested in profit.”

Home | About

© Oregon Labor Press Publishing Co. Inc.