Monday, March 31, 2014

Will Omnitrans' Bus Drivers Strike?


We have another transit-related dispute that has risen between the government and the powerful public labor union lobby. The latest threat involves yet another potential transit driver strike--this one is against the cash-strapped Omnitrans bus system. So, the question worried bus riders are now wondering: Will Omnitrans bus drivers strike?

Short answer is...We don't know.

We know too little to make an educated prediction on this question. Right now, one of the best things to do is to be prepared. He here are some hard facts on this issue:
  • Based on data from the Omnitrans' About Us webpage, approximately 16 million passengers use the bus annually.
  • Omnitrans has a $12.8 million shortfall through 2020 and has already proposed to hike fares.
  • Omnitrans bus drivers are part of the Amalgamated Transit Union, the largest labor organization representing transit workers in the United States and Canada, with over 190,000 members in over 240 local unions spread across 46 states and nine provinces.
  • The Sun reported that drivers from the local unit voted 234-17 to approve the strike, but must muster approval from Riverside union leaders and by the ATU International Headquarters.
  • Drivers have been working without a contract since March 31, 2013--a whole year.
  • The dispute is over an "arbitrator’s decision to offer benefits to employees on medical leave for only three months, rather than indefinitely — or for either one or two years, depending on circumstances" based on a report from The Sun.
  • Omnitrans has a team of field supervisors and other employees trained to drive buses in the event of a strike, thus service along vital transit corridors will certainly continue should the drivers do strike.
  • Drivers have not received any salary raises from the last five years.
Omnitrans predicts the strike authorization is a negotiating ploy, implying that the drivers may not actually strike. Because the discussion sessions and union meetings are confidential, we have no specific data of what solutions are currently being debated nor what ATU plans to do should the discussions continue to lead nowhere. Therefore, Omnitrans' statement is speculation.

But here's what's not speculation: Transit strikes have long proven to be devastating to mobility; they worsen traffic conditions, isolates transit-dependent workers from their employers, and exacerbates the local economy which drives down the tax revenue to pay for the benefits. We certainly do not want a strike to occur.

Also, both the ATU and the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor Thomas E. Perez played key roles in holding up federal transit funds last August by exploiting loopholes in the 1964 Urban Mass Transportation Act. That obstructed sound pension reform laws at the state level.

To be absolutely clear, we are in no way dissenting labor unions as a whole nor the hard-working public and contract-operator employees who get up in the morning and provide for the government services that we need. It is vital to ensure that their labor rights are protected. Anybody questioning this notion should check out what happened during the Industrial Revolution. Public workers must have the basic right to assemble and bargain collectively. We want public workers to have a decent means of living. And the facts back up the notion that a robust market economy where jobs are plentiful ensures that such benefits can be paid for fairly.

What the ATU should consider to maintain high wages & benefits: A Robust Market Economy

The powerful public labor union lobby needs to get out of their ideological fantasy that all of this money they want for their workers comes out of the heavens. The fact is that we the people--We the taxpaying public--pay for all of this. And the facts are the Inland Empire's economy is soft, job opportunities are still down, people seeking full time jobs is still high, fuel taxes are through the roof, our public works infrastructure and transit services are overdue for upgrades, the United States functions on a capitalistic economic system, and Omnitrans and LA Metro are millions in the red.

The labor union lobby needs to stop opposing measures that will strengthen the market economy. It's leaders should know that if elected officials institute laws and policies that obstruct marketplace growth in the name of guaranteeing promising wages and benefits for government workers, the problem will only worsen later down the road. If the unions want to maintain high government salaries, a robust market economy is essential. The generous benefits promised would be paid for simply because the salaries will actually be in line with the what is offered in the private sector during a robust economy. That also means our public works infrastructure and services would be fully paid for as well. The money to maintain government employee health benefits has to come from somewhere.

One last stat, courtesy of CNN: According to the Congressional Budget Office, public government jobs where the applicant is a high school graduate, college graduate, or a grad school graduate generally pays more than the equivalent job in the private sector, especially the lower-responsibility positions. Citizens with a doctorate degree were the general exception. Labor groups must realize that a growing number of voters are seeing this troubling pattern, putting together the facts, adding them up, and declaring, "enough!"

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