CARTS contract ratified

LISBON – A 10-day strike by transit workers with the Community Action Agency is over, with an agreement reached and ratified by the union Friday, although the CAA board will not meet until Monday to vote on the new contract.

About 41 members of United Steelworkers Local 3372-08 went on strike at 9 p.m. May 22 after contract talks broke down over wages. The union governs drivers, dispatchers, mechanics and office staff who work for the CAA operating the Community Action Rural Transit System (CARTS).

Picket lines went up the next morning, with workers manning them at various sites throughout the county.

Initially, the CAA was offering a $1 per hour salary increase while the union was holding out for $1.50.

Union representative Joe Holcomb said last night that the federal mediator had contacted him Thursday to say CAA officials wanted to meet, and a meeting was held at 2 p.m. Friday.

A tentative agreement was reached by 6 p.m. that offers workers a four-year contract instead of the original three-year pact, with a 30-cent per hour increase the first year followed by 25 cents per hour over each of the next three years.

The union voted on and agreed to the offer at 7 p.m. Friday night, although the vote was not unanimous, according to Holcomb, who said the contract takes effect Monday.

“We’re not excited about this, but we think it’s the best we can get. The members stuck together, but we feel our clients are in more need of (workers) than staying out (on strike) for a couple of nickels,” Holcomb said, adding, “Our people want to get back to work and are happy to get back to their clients.”

Quinten Melius, CAA transportation director, confirmed an agreement has been reached and ratified, saying the CAA board will meet early next week to vote on the contract.

“We plan to return to full service Tuesday. All trips scheduled for Tuesday will be given,” Melius emphasized.

He would not comment on the details of the new pact until after the CAA board votes, but agreed that the agency had originally offered a $1 per hour increase over a three-year period, which was turned down by the union.

Normally, CARTS provides an average of 500 trips per day with its fleet of vans and mini-buses, which had dwindled to between 110-120 trips per day during the strike, utilizing seven vehicles operated by five drivers who opted to cross the picket lines and two who had not yet joined the union.

The CAA had planned on increasing that number to about a dozen vehicles if the strike continued, using replacement drivers chosen from a field of about 20 applications received when the call went out after the strike was threatened.

The CAA and CARTS are both funded with state and federal dollars.