With Formula 1 approaching, Capital Metro bus drivers may strike

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The union representing bus drivers on about half of Capital Metro’s 83 routes voted last week to authorize a potential strike, citing unfair labor practices allegedly committed by the contractor that operates those routes.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1091, which represents about 600 bus drivers and Capital Metro employees, accused McDonald Transit of declaring contract negotiations at an impasse in August. The declaration allowed the contractor to amend the existing labor contract to include changes such as lower wages for new drivers and higher health insurance premiums.

Dan Dawson, vice president of marketing and communication for Capital Metro, said UT shuttles would not be affected by the strike because McDonald Transit does not operate the shuttle service.

The vote comes a week before Austin hosts Formula 1 racing, an event that will require the city’s public transportation system to accommodate an influx of tourists.

Dawson said the union’s vote authorizes a potential strike but does not guarantee that workers will strike. Dawson said he does not know how the bus service would be affected because it is not clear how many drivers plan to strike. He said Capital Metro would use drivers from two other contractors, Veolia Transportation and First Transit, to staff routes designated as top priority if the union calls a strike.

“We are hoping that everything will go well and it will not come to that,” Dawson said.

In a statement Friday, Linda Watson, Capital Metro president and CEO, said Capital Metro has established plans to deal with a possible driver shortage during the Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix, but that the strike would affect service on fixed routes.

“Regarding Formula 1, we are disappointed that the union has called for a strike authorization, especially given the level of coordinated planning that has occurred during the past several months to ensure that enhanced services could be provided for the benefit of the community and visitors alike,” Watson said.

McDonald Transit, a Fort Worth-based company, began operating 44 of Capital Metro’s routes in August. McDonald and the union have been negotiating a new collective bargaining contract since July.

McDonald Transit president Robert Babbitt said he would not comment on the situation because his company is still negotiating with the union.

Jay Wyatt, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1091, did not return calls for comment by press time.

In a statement Friday, Mike Martinez, chair of Capital Metro’s board of directors, said the union previously approved of Capital Metro’s current labor structure and that its action could jeopardize Capital Metro’s ability to serve the Austin area.

“Strikes should be utilized as a last effort after discussions break down, not a first knee-jerk reaction before all other options are considered,” Martinez said. “It is my hope that the members of ATU continue their amazing service and remain at the bargaining table with McDonald in order to resolve remaining issues.”

Printed on Monday, November 12, 2012 as: Grand prix approaches as bus drivers look to strike