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Published: Friday, 4/26/2013

TARPS union issues list of complaints from bus drivers

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Editor's Note: This version corrects the spelling of Cynthia Betz's name.

Toledo Area Regional Paratransit Service union representatives aired a list of complaints Wednesday during a personnel committee meeting of the TARTA board of trustees — complaints that other union leaders present said are strong evidence of trouble at the agency.

TARPS “is TARTA’s dirty little secret,” said Cynthia Betz, business manager for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 697. Its drivers are paid less, she said, even though their jobs include tasks like assisting passengers with bags and driving down narrow residential streets that Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority buses don't use.

Discipline is capricious and severe, seniority is ignored in assignments, drivers’ requests for restroom breaks are frequently turned down, and the union is denied the right to communicate with members through mailboxes at the TARPS garage, as is allowed at the TARTA garage, Ms. Betz continued.

“Many employees have to rely on public assistance” because their compensation is so meager, she said.

Treyna Bigsby, a former TARPS customer-service agent, accused a transit authority manager of harassing her because she has lupus, a disease treatable with expensive medication that the TARTA health plan would have to pay for.

She said when she gave two weeks’ notice to quit, her medical coverage was stopped immediately, so she lost coverage continuity when she was hired by another employer.

TARTA officials disputed that statement, acknowledging only that Ms. Bigsby’s health coverage stopped a day early because of a clerical error but was reinstated after she complained that prescriptions she mail-ordered on her last day at TARPS weren’t being covered.

Driver Barbara Mills, meanwhile, said transit authority discipline smacks of prejudice because some drivers aren’t allowed to pick up certain passengers because of their driving or legal histories, “but others with worse records” are.

After hearing the complaints, committee member Francis Frey read from a long memorandum written by James Gee, the transit authority’s general manager, that rebutted many of the same issues as Ms. Betz had presented them during an April 4 meeting of the full board of trustees.

But Ms. Betz said she had never been asked to provide supporting evidence for her charges, and Mr. Frey said the committee should have a chance to review that evidence before making any findings on the complaints’ merits.

TARPS drivers’ pay, which ranges from $10 per hour for new hires to $14.38 per hour for full-time workers with four or more years’ experience, has been in effect since 2008, when the transit authority took the service in-house after using contractors for 19 years.

Top-of-the-scale pay for a TARTA driver is $20.40 per hour.

TARPS drivers and TARTA operating employees — drivers and mechanics — are represented by Local 697, but they are separate bargaining units. The TARPS workers have been without a contract since March 31, 2011.

The transit authority wants a union negotiating impasse referred to the State Employment Relations Board, but Local 697 wants it handled by binding arbitration.

Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Gary Cook granted a TARTA motion to dismiss Local 697’s lawsuit in August, but the union has appealed.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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