Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Why there is no love for ATU 85

As we get into the thick of the annual fight for transit funding, it is worth noting to Port Authority's largest labor union that they are working from a position of weakness, and I do not mean the anti-transit politicians in Harrisburg.

In the April 2010 pick, Port Authority made what they called a clerical error concerning the West Busway's Bell Avenue Station stop. The information that went to the drivers said it was discharge-only inbound, pickup-only outbound for the new G2 route. The information that went out to the public said it was a full-service stop, i.e., pickup and discharge both directions for the G2, which at the time went to Robinson, bypassing Carnegie Station. It was full-service for the G1, which at the time was the only route which went to the end of the Busway at Carnegie, like the 33X and 100 it replaced. Also, unlike the G1, the G2 went to Oakland, so for Carnegie riders working in Oakland, boarding a G2 at Bell was the only real way to get there. Both the G1 and G2 were new in that pick.

Somewhere in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) Port Authority has with Local 85 is the stipulation that management may not alter a route after the pick is made. Immediately upon the pick going into effect, the discrepancy made itself known, and within a day, management had made it clear to the drivers that Bell was to be full service for both G2 and G1, both directions, case closed. Labor did not like that.

While this all boiled down to a labor-management dispute, it was the customer who suffered. From the first Monday of the pick, down at Carnegie Station at inbound rush hour, G1 trips were loading to the point of refusal, making people try to board half-empty G2 trips at Bell. In non-peak periods, when there were waits of up to a half hour for a G1 to come along, G2 trips came at least as often, passing up waiting riders. For the entirety of that pick, some drivers refused to provide full service. Even into June, I witnessed inbound G2 trips where the bus was stopped to discharge a passenger at Bell, and the driver refused to allow a waiting passenger to board the bus.

Here is what I do not get. While I do understand why there was a dispute, I do not understand why the union felt it had to fight it, i.e., why the union did not simply say, "You know, you're right. The customer is better served by making Bell full service for the G2." Did they? No. They did the opposite. They caught management's clerical error and tried to force them to hold to the letter of the CBA.

This gained the union no love from the riding community. More than once, I was asked, and had to think myself, "Why must the union harm riders?" Fine for them to protect workers from things that would cause them injury, rescue them from unfair discharges, and work to get them good pay and benefits, but not when they force willing paying would-be riders to stand in the rain with the bus stopped and the door open. That is simply not right, no amount of explanation by labor can make it right, and we are long past the point of apologies.

With this in mind, Local 85 needs to realize that they are now up against something far larger than what they perceive as bad management. Even among transit supporters, it is hard to root for an organization that has made life miserable for riders.

1 comment:

  1. I am pro-union most of the time. Sometimes, however, the union is wrong. This was one of those times.