After working through the first wave of the coronavirus epidemic, front-line employees at King County Metro Transit are now at risk of losing three years of cost-of-living raises.
King County Executive Dow Constantine is seeking to halt a tentative contract agreement negotiated just before the outbreak, and approved in April by 94% of voters in Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 587.
By changing the deal now, he argued in a June 18 letter to the union, “we can reduce the need for more extreme cuts and job losses.” Inflation raises cost an estimated $78.5 million, while forecast sales-tax losses are $465 million over the next two years, the county says.
The union rejected Constantine’s request, arguing Metro has enough money to sustain its operations through 2022, and then seek new income.
“The union is fighting to save all members’ jobs, and right now, we are struggling to keep service,” said Local 587 President Kenneth Price.
The Metropolitan King County Council received contract copies Tuesday, and will vote by August, an aide said. Transit workers aren’t allowed to strike, so an impasse would go to arbitration.
The proposed deal, affecting 4,600 people, calls for a $1,000 signing bonus plus a 3% raise retroactive to Nov. 1, 2019, another 3% Nov. 1, 2020, then 2% Nov. 1, 2021 and 2% May 1, 2022.
Proposed 2019-20 wage rates, for experienced workers, include $30.57 per hour for a customer service specialist, $35.43 for bus and rail operators, $40.55 for mechanics and $46.43 for dispatchers.
“No zeroes for our heroes,” Local 587 declared in a position statement, endorsed by the Martin Luther King County Labor Council and the Transit Riders Union.
It mentions that at least 22 transit workers have caught COVID-19, including two bus drivers who died, Sameena Hamid and Mike Winkler. Metro designated transit workers “first responders” in April because they transport the public, including health-care workers.
Council Chair Claudia Balducci of Bellevue said Tuesday she hasn’t taken a position yet, and wants to hear more public feedback.
“I’m concerned about the idea of a large increase to the cost of labor, over the long term,” she said. The county forecasts a 10-year loss of $2.2 billion.
Deep cuts would ruin Metro’s chance to preserve a useful network that’s needed to regain riders after the epidemic, Balducci fears. Ridership is currently down 63% from normal.
Metro already announced a 15% service cut this September, and more reductions could follow. The county plans to lay off 200 transit workers, which could grow to 450 layoffs, the union says.
Price took aim at Metro’s Mobility Division, that operates nonunion services such as the on-demand Via vans feeding light rail stations, minibus shuttles as in downtown Redmond, or privately run Ride2 vans that failed last year.
“To cut service is to affect the diverse ridership of King County negatively. The return of high ridership arises from this diverse population of King County and not from a specialized private transportation system,” Price said.
Some members are annoyed at a sound bite by Constantine, on KUOW radio, that an “adult conversation” is needed about what’s affordable.
“That message tells me the management, the people who oversee our jobs, don’t think of us as adults in the first place — that somehow we’re so childish for vocalizing our needs,” said Jack McCall, who drives bus routes 48 and 64 in Seattle.
McCall said canceling wage bumps “is incredibly insulting,” after the county took weeks to supply personal protective equipment.
The planned raises would help prepare workers for the possibility of being laid off in a second wave of the virus and its economic fallout, McCall said. “Now more than ever, we’ve seen the importance of needing to have money set aside.”