King County Metro Transit workers have overwhelmingly rejected a contract offer that would have frozen wages for 2014 and 2015, followed by an inflation-indexed raise in 2016.
The count by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587 on Wednesday night was 839 yes, 1,595 no, a pass rate of only 34 percent. A total 2,434 ballots were cast, indicating nearly two-thirds of the 3,800 members participated. Local 587 is the largest transit union on the West Coast, including bus drivers, train operators, mechanics and electricians.
The next step is likely to be arbitration between the union and the county, drawn out for many months. This is the second offer union members have rejected, to cover the three-year period starting Nov. 1, 2013. Transit workers here are not allowed to strike, but a few have suggested some type of workplace action.
President Paul Bachtel and the union’s executive board had voted 14-2 to recommend passage, fearing that to roll the dice with an arbitrator could yield a worse contract. Bachtel said Wednesday this was the first time the board recommended a “concessionary” contract in which employees lose ground on wages.
There was one big upside to the offer — it would have guaranteed break times for bus drivers, who often get delayed by traffic, so they lack enough minutes between trips to use the restroom or eat a sandwich.
A veteran driver earns around $63,000 a year, not including benefits and overtime pay. That’s fifth-highest in the U.S., and for a brief time in 2013, Local 587 ranked first, Bachtel said. Historically, Metro pay was eighth- to 15th-highest, but Metro pay gradually increased last decade, while other cities pressed downward on transit wages.
In arbitration, the county could argue Seattle-area pay is already higher than in mid-sized cities such as Minneapolis or Boston, said Bachtel. Metro also provides benefits that could be jeopardized, Bachtel said, such as supplemental income for workers on injury leave, beyond what state workers compensation pays.
These arguments didn’t sway most union members.
Randy Steinman, an executive board member who opposed the offer, said the local economy is picking up; he saw 14 construction cranes while standing in one waterfront spot. The top 10 companies based here do $300 billion in business a year, and Metro moves many of their workers, he argued in the union newsletter. “Why not us?” he said, reprising the motto of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
Meanwhile, Metro is proposing to cut roughly 300,000 to 550,000 service hours a year, due to a $75 million structural deficit. Seattle voters face a fall ballot measure of a sales-tax increase and a car tab to preserve certain Metro routes within the city.
County Executive Dow Constantine took a relatively hard line this cycle. “Our transit workers work very hard and diligently,” he said while voting was under way Wednesday. “We obviously want them to be fairly compensated. We are, it’s no secret to anyone, in difficult times financially.”