Columbus Bus Workers Union Plans Strike During Independence Day Celebration
Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 208, which represents 660 drivers and mechanics employed by the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA), notified the City of Columbus of their intent to begin a strike on July 2 — one day before the citys annual Red, White and BOOM Independence Day celebration.
TWU Local 208 is a public employee union and part of the Ohio AFL-CIO, and TWU Local 208 president Theotis James is a member of the Ohio AFL-CIO Executive Board. TWU Local 208 is also a member of We Are Ohio, the union front group that is attempting to gain control of the state’s redistricting process.
This years Red, White and BOOM is part of the year-long Columbus bicentennial celebration, and will be the citys time to soar, in the words of Mayor Michael Coleman. Event organizers expect as many as 500,000 attendees to visit downtown Columbus on July 3, and expanded COTA services were planned before the union threatened to strike July 2.
If TWU Local 208 continues to refuse a mediators recommendation that union members pay an additional one percent towards their pensions, COTA will be effectively crippled as workers walk off the job early Tuesday morning. Members of TWU Local 208 overwhelmingly rejected the new contract, despite tentatively agreeing to all but one of the contracts points during earlier negotiations.
In the contract that expired in November 2010, COTA workers received pension payments equivalent to 14 percent of their salaries, on top of a 5.5 percent pension pickup. Pension pickups are a common clause of public employee union contracts, forcing taxpayers to pay for some or all of the “required” 10 percent employee contribution.
A point that seems to be the poison pill in negotiations is the unions demand for a quicker increase in worker salaries between 2008 and 2011, drivers received salary increases totaling 9 percent, with average maximum pay for all positions averaging over $60,000. However, more recent COTA hires make up to 40 percent less than workers who have been there longer, which appears to be why the union is threatening to cripple the Columbus public transportation system.
In the past, the bus workers union has gone on strike twice, avoiding a work stoppage in 2005 by agreeing to sign the contract one day before the planned strike. COTA President W. Curtis Stitt told The Columbus Dispatch that COTA will do everything we can to avoid a work stoppage, short of writing a blank check.
Absent a resolution by July 2, COTA will discontinue regular bus service routes, but paratransit services for disabled riders will continue. City officials are urging visitors and residents to remain calm but to consider carpooling, walking, or using a bicycle to reach the downtown area. At publication, the forecast temperature for downtown Columbus during Red, White and BOOM is 93 degrees.
Editor’s note: Updated 07/02/2012 with a citation & clarification in the first sentence of paragraph six, to reflect that the figure used was the average of the maximum pay for all types of COTA employees.