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Published: Wednesday, 12/21/2005

TARTA, union seek binding arbitration


TARTA and the union representing its drivers and mechanics will refer unresolved contract talks to binding arbitration, leaders from both sides said yesterday.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 697 voted for arbitration on Nov. 11, and James Gee, the transit authority's general manager, said yesterday that while it has received no formal notice of the vote from the union, the bus agency also believes arbitration is the answer.

Wages and health benefits are the primary sticking points, said both Mr. Gee and Ed Dustman, the union local president.

Local 697 represents about 230 TARTA employees. The vote to seek arbitration was 94-0, Mr. Dustman said, and a strike is not being considered.

There have been no negotiations since Nov. 2, two days after Local 697's old contract expired. Mr. Dustman said the offer TARTA made to the union that day was "very embarrassing" to the point that he wouldn't even take it to the membership.

"Their proposal to us was all concessions from the employees. There was nothing coming back from the company at all," he said.

Mr. Gee countered by saying the union made the decision to end the contract talks. "We were willing to continue to negotiate."

As for the unresolved issues, Mr. Gee said, "We are struggling with the same issues that other companies are, that other transit authorities are. With the price of fuel as high as it is and state funding going down, these are tough times for transit authorities."

Both Mr. Gee and Mr. Dustman said the process for choosing an arbitration panel would take until after the holidays to complete.

A separate ATU Local 697 unit representing about 50 workers at the Toledo Area Regional Paratransit Service recently settled a three-year contract with Laidlaw Services, the operator of the special-needs mini-bus service. That contract provides for 3 percent raises in each of the three years, Mr. Dustman said.

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