Columbus Bus Union Rejects New Contract, Continues Strike
Last night members of Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 208 voted to remain on strike, rejecting an eleventh-hour compromise between Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) executives and union leadership. The TWU vote fulfilled Columbus officials worst-case concerns, leaving today’s Independence Day celebration — one of the city’s largest annual events — without public transit services.
Organizers for the Red, White and BOOM! event expect as many as 500,000 people to visit downtown Columbus today, and expanded COTA service was planned before the union went on strike.
TWU Local 208 workers rejected the latest contract by a margin of 270-238, allegedly due to resistance to measures requiring regular health screenings that would allow employees to obtain more affordable health insurance.
When asked if he felt the public workers he represented were neglecting their responsibilities by striking, Jordan replied, “[m]y membership is part of this community also,” but added that the union “also has to help ourselves.”
TWU Local 208, a public employee union, is an Ohio AFL-CIO affiliate whose members receive pay, health insurance, and retirement benefits from local taxpayers. TWU Local 208 is also a member of We Are Ohio, the union front group currently attempting to gain control of the states redistricting process.
Last year, due to a $41 million anti-reform campaign run by We Are Ohio, Ohioans overturned a Republican bill that would have prevented public employees from going on strike, among other cost-saving measures.
Between 2008 and 2011, COTA drivers received salary increases totaling 9 percent, with average maximum pay for all positions averaging over $60,000 annually. TWU Local 208 has complained that new employees do not reach the top of COTA’s pay scales quickly enough.
COTA workers also receive pension payments equivalent to 14 percent of their salaries, in addition to 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 to employee pensions. TWU Local 208 has balked at COTA’s proposal to reduce pension pickups by 1 percent in 2013 and 1 percent in 2014.
In short, TWU Local 208 has crippled the Columbus public transportation system because COTA wants to reduce taxpayers’ pension contributions from 19.5 percent to 17.5 percent of workers’ salaries and does not, in the union’s opinion, max out workers’ pay quickly enough.
Reacting to the July 2 vote, COTA president W. Curtis Stitt vowed “not allow the union to hold this community hostage” and “to shift gears and consider all available options.” In preparation for a strike, COTA recently approved a $500,904 security contract to protect COTA property and employees.
Before the strike, Mayor Michael Colemans office was “monitoring” the situation, but according to spokesperson Daniel Williamson, Coleman believed that it “would not be appropriate for him to insert himself in the negotiations.”
On July 3, Williamson noted that, in light of the deterioration of negotiations between COTA and the union, Colemans office is now involved in trying to resolve the strike.
Williamson told Media Trackers that “Mayor Coleman has spoken to both leaders today — Curtis from COTA and Andrew from TWU — and told them he wants to do what he can to bring them back to the table, and put buses back on the street as soon as possible.”