Bus drivers and other transit employees are expected to get pay bumps, despite a call from King County Executive Dow Constantine to walk back a labor deal reached with the workers before the local coronavirus outbreak.
In an 8-1 vote, the Metropolitan King County Council approved the three-year deal between the county and Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 587, which represents Metro workers.
Drivers, mechanics and other Metro employees have worked through the pandemic, with some of them deemed “first responders.” Two Metro drivers, Samina Hameed and Mike Winkler, have died after contracting the coronavirus.
On Tuesday, two Metro workplaces were closed for about two hours for deep cleaning after employees who worked at the locations were diagnosed with COVID-19. Metro declined to provide details.
The county and union agreed to the contract deal in late February, just before the pandemic struck locally. But since then, COVID-19 has plunged Metro into financial uncertainty, with the county projecting a $2.2 billion loss for Metro over the next eight years.
Walking back the raises would “reduce the need for more extreme cuts and job losses,” Constantine wrote to the union president in June. This month, Metro sent layoff notices to 200 part-time bus drivers.
The proposal to reopen contract negotiations drew outrage from workers and a protest near Constantine’s office Monday where demonstrators called his suggestion “union busting.”
The county should “not walk away from their essential workers,” Metro employee Paul Sager told council members ahead of the vote Tuesday.
“We are 24/7, 365. Many are working, sleeping, living and dying,” said Metro operator Lisa Nault. “We ask for your courage to vote yes.”
The deal, affecting 4,600 people, would provide $1,000 signing bonuses, 3% raises retroactive to November 2019 and in 2020 and 2% raises in 2021 and 2022. The contract would cost $78.6 million, the county says.
Council Chair Claudia Balducci, who supported the contract, said she “struggled” with the decision. “The world changed, it changed out from under us” after the deal was initially reached, Balducci said.
Rejecting the deal could hurt worker morale and jeopardize concessions the county won from the union, said Councilmember Rod Dembowski.
Referring to the state Legislature and a “broken” tax structure, Councilmember Girmay Zahilay said workers should not bear the “burden of bad decisions by elected officials” who tied bus funding to sales tax revenues, which can take a heavy hit during economic downturns.
Councilmember Reagan Dunn rejected the deal. “A 10% increase [over the life of the contract] is a huge increase with a very uncertain financial future … We are going to get hammered this fall,” Dunn said.
The ordinance approving the contract will now go to Constantine for his signature.
Since the pandemic, county council members have approved contracts with raises for other county unions, including another union representing Metro employees who work on trolley buses, streetcars and Sound Transit electrical systems, and the union representing juvenile detention employees. But those unions represent far fewer employees than the ATU local.
Metro expects a $465 million drop in sales tax revenue and another $130 million to $150 million loss in fare revenue over the next two years, together representing 30% of the roughly $2 billion Metro spends on transit operations every two years.
The union has argued Metro can avoid reductions by tapping about $244 million in federal coronavirus aid and $258 million in reserves, plus cutting back on nonunion services such as on-demand vans and shuttles.