Monday, August 12, 2013

Special interests obstructing RTA and Omnitrans transit

Before addressing this controversy, we must make one point very clear for the men and women working for the Riverside Transit Agency and Omnitrans. We understand that the vast majority of individual employees working for our transit agencies and their contractors work very hard everyday to service our transit needs and to provide for their families. By no means are we dissenting such productive and honest work. What we and many fair-minded individuals question are the actions by the special interest groups, entities which are supposed to represent the will and rights of their dues-paying workers.

Under heavy pressure from informed Californians to control wasteful government spending, overpaid pubic employee salaries, and unfunded retirement benefits, special interest groups are becoming desperate and turning toward trivial means to maintain the status quo. We've all seen and heard about the BART fiasco up in the Bay area, but it gets worse locally. The desperation is so bad that one local Inland Empire group is going as far to obstruct RTA's and Omnitrans's federal funding sources. Instead of acknowledging the fact that the state simply cannot afford the continued spending madness, this special interest labor group has clearly demonstrated that defending labor rights includes putting their worker's jobs in limbo.

Claiming that the California's Public Employee's Pension Reform Act of 2013 violated collective bargaining rights, local leaders of the Amalgamated Transit Union in April filed objections to the U.S. Department of Labor which led to a freeze of Federal Transit Administration grants last week to RTA and Omnitrans. Federal transportation money is a major source of funding for our local transit agencies and is rightly so given that all of us here in the Inland Empire pay into the federal system. $31 million of RTA's $79 million total annual budget comes from the feds--almost 40%. Omnitrans gets $30 million from Uncle Sam. As a result, both of these agencies have begun contingency plans for the next fiscal year should the federal government decide not to obligate the funds at all. If that happens, serious transit cuts will be on the table and The Transit Coalition will fight against it by holding ATU, the state and feds accountable. Here's the irony behind all this: Many of ATU's workers will have their hours cut--or worse yet, face layoffs. Omnitrans has reported the possible layoff of 200 workers should the agency not receive money from the feds.

Here's how trivial this case is. According to an editorial by the Press Enterprise, California's pension reform only affected new hires. The new law also did not obstruct future negotiations or bargaining over pensions, but merely caps what the state government can offer going forward. Californians should be appalled at how loopholes are being undermined by these special interests with their agendas all in the name of worker's rights.

To be fair, labor unions have played an important role in history, bringing workers days of rest, safer working conditions, breaks in the day, justified hours, livable wages, child labor laws and other vital labor rights issues. However, there comes a point where agendas can turn into abuse. The fact is that the pension madness in the Inland Empire will actually harm hard working transit workers, putting hundreds of transit jobs in jeopardy, and well over a third of the Inland Empire's transit operations in fiscal limbo. Both the state and federal government must step in, work together, get RTA and Omnitrans the funding that Inland Empire taxpayers paid into, close up the federal loopholes, and pass fair and fiscally sound labor laws which cannot be exploited.

If the state wants to increase wages and benefits statewide as demanded by the special interests, make California a better place to do business, inspire entrepreneurs to come back and invest in the Golden State which will stimulate the job market and balance the job-to-worker ratio. Underpaid employees will then have the option to seek better work in the marketplace which drives up employee retention and salaries. Employers not taking care of their workers will be faced with high turnovers--something that many businesses want to avoid. Remember the days when you always saw the "Now Hiring" signs at the corner McDonald's or Wal-Mart? That's how we can get rid of the double-digit unemployment and increase wages and benefits to livable levels. It's long past time for the special interests, the state and the feds to accept and adopt this notion.

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