Community Transit members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1576 have been working under the terms of a previous contract that expired at the end of 2016. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

Community Transit members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1576 have been working under the terms of a previous contract that expired at the end of 2016. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

Union members vote no confidence in Community Transit CEO

The bus service and workers have been negotiating for two years. A sticking point is driver safety.

EVERETT — After more than two years of negotiating, Community Transit and the union that represents drivers and other employees are struggling to reach an agreement on a new contract.

Members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1576 have been working under the terms of a previous contract that expired at the end of 2016. Sticking points include how emergency situations are handled and the agency’s accident policy.

“Drivers at Community Transit don’t feel safe driving,” said Kathleen Custer, president of the ATU 1576.

The union is Community Transit’s largest, representing roughly half of all employees. About 425 drivers, dispatchers, customer service representatives, instructors, fare enforcement officers and maintenance workers belong to the organization.

A union vote in early October found 94 percent of respondents had no confidence in Emmett Heath, CEO of Community Transit. About 72 percent of the union’s membership participated, according to its data.

Community Transit’s board of directors responded to the union in an Oct. 15 letter. In it, the board expressed “full faith and confidence in the process and with the CEO and negotiating team.”

A big issue is the lack of response drivers received when they make emergency calls while on their routes, Custer said.

“There is no real protocol,” Custer said. “Everyone is doing something different.”

She pointed to one situation when a driver had to wait more than 20 minutes for help after a passenger verbally accosted her. The union says assaults on drivers appear to be rising. They want Community Transit to update its emergency response guidelines and include the union in that conversation.

“We should not have to force them to re-look at their emergency protocol … these are not monetary issues,” Custer said.

Community Transit agrees procedures for initiating medical or police response should be updated and is willing to include the union in that discussion, said Martin Munguia, an agency spokesman.

“But it’s an issue to talk about outside the contract,” Munguia said.

Emergency response policies were not included in the previous contract.

The two sides also have yet to reach an agreement over the agency’s accident policy, which Custer characterized as punitive.

The union is trying to bring new items, such as the accident policy, into the contract, Munguia said. These are policy issues that apply to all employees, he said, and Community Transit is not willing to negotiate them as part of the ATU 1576 contract.

The agency has already agreed to a 3 percent annual wage increase for the union members, Munguia said, making the drivers some of the best paid in the state.

After completing training, new drivers currently make $23.23 per hour.

Since negotiations began in fall 2016, bargaining has been going slowly, both sides say.

This is not unusual. It took 24 months to reach a deal on the last contract, Custer said.

In May, Community Transit requested to bring in a mediator. If that fails, the next step would be arbitration.

Lizz Giordano: 425-374-4165;; Twitter: @lizzgior.

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