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Mass Transit, Mass Confusion: Problems with labor

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William Davis Jr. has driven a Capital Metro bus for 15 years. In that time he's developed strong relationships with his passengers.

"They've brought me Christmas presents, [and] they've given me cards that say thank you for just being kind," Davis said.

But Davis said nowadays his life is full of strife. Capital Metro outsourced some routes to other companies, meaning some senior drivers like Davis have to split their shifts.

Because of this, Davis begins work early in the morning and then takes off a few hours and drives again in the afternoon.

"You want to work eight hours like everybody else and go home, be with your family, spend quality time, but you can't because you're obligated to Capital Metro from 10 to 12 hours a day," Davis said.

He said Capital Metro is trying to get back at the drivers for their union's latest strike. Most of the workers belong to Amalgamated Transit Union 1091, which includes both bus drivers and mechanics.

State law doesn't allow unions to collectively bargain with public agencies, but to get federal money, Capital Metro has to work with the unions.

To solve the problem, Capital Metro created StarTran, a nonprofit that employs most of the transit agency's workers and negotiates with unions. In the case of ATU 1091, workers even have the right to strike.

And so, they did. The union waged war with StarTran in 2005 and again in 2007-2008 over contracts.

ATU 1091 president Jay Wyatt said both times StarTran brought in what's called union-avoidance attorneys.

"This is a person who is strictly about busting unions. That's what their roles are," Wyatt said.

Evidence of a bad relationship they’ve had for years.

StarTran decided enough was enough and the nonprofit decided to change. Officials hired Terry Garcia Crews as their general manager. Before that, StarTran never had one. Crews instituted an open-door policy and a number of procedural changes.

"Some of the bad behavior that has been allowed previously: storming in meetings and using derogatory language, is no longer accepted. There's a mutual respect," Crews said.

Crews represented change, but not the type bus drivers like William Davis had hoped for.

"She don't care about none of us. She's only concerned about her own agenda, whatever that might be," Davis said.

Other solutions are beginning to surface.

Capital Metro's Board of Directors created a new labor relations subcommittee with board chair Mike Martinez as the lead.

"I will look into everything, from grievances to pending negotiations to potential negotiations," Martinez said.

The agency is also considering getting rid of StarTran altogether.

"That was one of the recommendations of the CAMPO peer review," Capital Metro Interim President/CEO Doug Allen said.

The review suggested many things, including:
• Making employees public employees (which doesn't allow for strikes)
• Bringing in a private company to manage the drivers
• More training and professional development
• Resolving the current impasse in collective bargaining

Either way, it's a big change for someone like William Davis, who fields a flurry of questions about service from the people he transports.

"The only thing I can do is tell them the truth. This is Capital Metro; I'm not doing this. I drive for Capital Metro. I want the best for ya'll. I want things to be better, but the only thing I do - I drive the bus. I do my job. I do what they tell me to do," Davis said.

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