By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — A wage freeze and job cuts are at stake as a local bus driver’s union engages in a tension-filled contract negotiation with Summit County. The Summit Stage currently employs 65 full-time drivers, though not all of them are members of the union.
“We started with the premise that a stage driver ought to be able to live, work and raise kids in Summit County,” said Bill Acuff, a negotiator with the union who was headed down to Denver Tuesday morning to meet with attorneys for the union. The local group, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1751, is affiliated with the National Amalgamated Transit Union, under the umbrella of the AFL CIO.
“There’s a wage freeze at issue … a lot of issues to be settled,” Acuff said.
Currently, the unionized drivers are working under an open-ended mediated labor agreement, subject to a renegotiation of a contract.
One of the biggest unanswered questions is how many drivers will be laid off when the Summit Stage cuts back its hours in early April. According to Acuff, it could be as many as 15 drivers, depending on exactly how the summer schedule shapes up.
Stage director John Jones acknowledged that there will be some layoffs, but he’s not yet sure how many. It may depend in part on how many drivers choose to resign over a radical change in scheduling.
For years, most Summit Stage drivers have had a four-day work week, a concession made by an earlier director in contract negotiations, he said.
But in the current economic climate, with county and town sales tax revenues in decline, the transit operation has to look for cost savings wherever it can. And that means switching most drivers to a five-day work week.
“I was hired for my ability to contain costs,” Jones said, explaining that he hired a consultant to look at schedules. The result: Switching to work schedules based on a five-day work week cuts 113 “dead” hours per week, for savings of $163,000, he said.
“The drivers are very dissatisfied … I don’t know how many will quit over this,” he said. “I’ve tried to work with this union. They simply don’t understand that we need to make these cuts,” Jones said. “I have the full support of the county commissioners and the county manager.”
The Summit Stage is funded by a sales tax spread across the county and local towns. As sales tax revenues plunged during the past year, the Stage took a hit in excess of $1 million. After years of steady increases, ridership numbers also dipped in the last 18 months.
Jones said his main goal is to maintain service at least at the levels offered last summer, when mid-day service levels were cut back to hourly in a move dating back to the middle of 2008.
“I don’t want to go any deeper into the riders … we may have to look at cutting administrative staff,” Jones said.
Acuff said he has questions about how some the Summit Stage’s operational budget has been used in the past few years. How that money is juggled internally could play a role in how much is available for personnel costs, he said.
Jones said he also has to plan ahead for capital expenses, including the acquisition of new buses. Federal subsidies are essentially frozen, and mileage on several Stage busses is approaching half a million miles, he said.