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Unfair Labor Arrangements Hurt Us All

This article describes a labor arrangement that affects many thousands of people in Santa Cruz County. The employer is not the University, the County Government, or even the Seaside Company, owners of the Boardwalk. Most of the people affected aren't employees, for that matter.

What follows is an analysis of a contract. It's a real contract, in effect today, right here in our county.

The rules are from the contract between Local 23 of the United Transportation Union (UTU) and the Lift Line division of Community Bridges. The contract covers paratransit van drivers. Half of their work involves transporting the 3,400 people who are currently registered for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) paratransit. The rest of their work involves transporting clients of other programs, such as Medi-Cal (medical insurance for the very poor).

UTU, for its part, doesn't seem to want us to know what's in the contract. I mentioned, at a recent Metro board meeting, that the UTU/Lift Line contract was on the UTU Local 23 Web site. The files were gone within hours, replaced by a dummy screen saying that the information was password-protected (by permission only!). It is a dummy because, unlike the other password-protected parts of UTU's site, this one does not have a place for you to enter a password. Even before the contract was removed, UTU had deleted Appendix A, the pay scale. What could UTU be hiding from the public? Since we pay for and/or use the service, shouldn't we be allowed to see the document?


What follows is an analysis of a contract. It's a real contract, in effect today, right here in our county. The highlights include:

Restrictions on employees. Victims: the remaining employees (about 40 people).

Union representatives can access your payroll data. They need not even inform you.
Union officers can stop you from posting to the employee bulletin board.
If the employer offers you a different assignment and you want it, the union can say no.
If you exercise "free will" by not joining the union, you still have to pay full dues.

Lax discipline. Victims: the customers (3,400 people with severe disabilities).

All suspensions are forgotten after one to two years.
If the employer suspends an employee, the union gets to pick the dates.
Customer complaints can never be mentioned in an employee's performance evaluation. There is no restriction on compliments.
An employee can have 4 no-shows but still keep his job. After 6 months, his attendance record is forgotten.
After 8 months with the employer, an employee becomes exempt from attendance discipline and can have as many no-shows as he wants.
An employee can arrive up to 5 minutes late every day, without risking discipline.

An unlevel playing field. Victim: the employer (a local non-profit agency).

The union can extend grievance deadlines by one year. The employer cannot get an extension unless the union agrees.
The employer must pay, and grant release time to, 3 union representatives, so that they can work against the employer. Any interaction between the union and the employer, on any topic, is covered.
The employer has to provide free office space to the union.

Give-aways. Victims: the local taxpayers (250,000 people).

Employees work between 41.8 and 44.3 weeks per year but get paid for 52. (The workers are paid by the hour, so they are not like teachers, who put in more than 8 hours a day during the school year and may enjoy a vacation during the summer when no continuing education is required.)
The figures above include 2.4 weeks of sick leave which can be used whenever the employee says so ("stress" or "emergency" is sufficient) or cashed out at retirement.
An employee who agrees to work on one of the 14 recognized holidays gets 2.5 to 3 days' pay for 1 days' work.
An employee can start collecting overtime before having worked 8 hours.

These rules are from the contract between Local 23 of the United Transportation Union (UTU) and the Lift Line division of Community Bridges. The contract covers paratransit van drivers. Half of their work involves transporting the 3,400 people who are currently registered for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) paratransit. The rest of their work involves transporting clients of other programs, such as Medi-Cal (medical insurance for the very poor).

My interest is in ADA paratransit, because that service is a legal right, is paid for primarily by local taxes, and is subject to strict legal standards. To qualify for ADA paratransit, one must have a disability severe enough to prevent one from using a regular bus -- even a lift-equipped bus. If a trip is too early or too late, or is missed for any reason, federal law has been violated.

To me, it's no wonder that Lift Line / Community Bridges has been having problems lately. This labor agreement is tougher than the agreement between UTU and Metro for regular bus drivers! A little non-profit agency couldn't be expected to have much negotiating muscle. I think it would be fair to say that UTU took advantage.

The clever aspect of the contract is its apetite for replacement workers. Someone has to be called in during the 10 weeks of annual paid time off, during the unpunished no-show days, or during the "Union purposes" release time. The extra work is offered first to senior employees. They are highest on the pay scale. Since they are, by definition, full-time employees, they will also be getting overtime. It's an expensive cascade.

Meanwhile, Community Bridges has been laying off employees and contracting out rides to taxi companies. Taxis are fine for exceptions -- late-night trips to distant places. Unionized workers don't "do" less than 8 hours, so they have in essence turned down this work. But if taxis are being used for baseline service -- the purview of full-time, unionzed workers -- then that's despicable. It would also be a fundamental violation of the contract. I think it might ultimately land Community Bridges in court, exacerbating the financial problems at Lift Line. Apparently, UTU has already filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge.

UTU, for its part, doesn't seem to want us to know what's in the contract. I mentioned, at a recent Metro board meeting, that the UTU/Lift Line contract was on the UTU Local 23 Web site. The files were gone within hours, replaced by a dummy screen saying that the information was password-protected. It is a dummy because, unlike the other password-protected parts of UTU's site, this one does not have a place for you to enter a password. Even before the contract was removed, UTU had deleted Appendix A, the pay scale. What could UTU be hiding from the public? Since we pay for and/or use the service, shouldn't we be allowed to see the document?

Well, I had archived a copy of the contract (less Appendix A) long before UTU took it down, and I present parts of it here so that you can see an example of a labor agreement that goes too far. To borrow from one of La Fontaine's fables, this deal bends the bough so far that it might well break. It's hard to see who, other than union brass, is benefitting from the mess that this deal helped create.

I repeat my call for moderation -- on the part of employers and on the part of labor unions. And I repeat my call for maintaining an ADA paratransit service that is at once cost-effective and of the highest quality. Whether Metro selects Lift Line, itself, or some other vendor to provide ADA paratransit service in the future, the contract for UTU paratransit drivers has got to be fixed.


Specific references to contract terms

Restrictions on employees.

Union representatives can access your payroll data. They need not even inform you.

Section 38.04: "...Agency shall permit authorized Union representatives to check time records and earnings of an employee covered by this Agreement... ." No privacy/disclosure provisions are specified.

Union officers can stop you from posting to the employee bulletin board.

Section 38.13: "... All notices posted on the Union bulletin board shall be signed by a Union officer or authorized representative... ." What if the representative disagrees with your views?

If the employer offers you a different assignment and you want it, the union can say no.

Section 30.04: "...Agency must obtain, prior to the change, the written approval of the Union and employee affected. If the employee and the Union do not agree to the change, the assignment may not be changed." Note the and's.

If you exercise "free will" by not joining the union, you still have to pay full dues.

The contract starts off innocently. Section 1.05: "...every employee ... has the right to choose of her own free will whether or not she will or will not [sic] join the Union." The freedom vanishes a few pages later. Section 3.01 B: "Membership in the Union, or timely payment of the initial Organizational Service Fee and subsequent service fees due, shall be a condition precedent to continued employment... ." A lot hinges on the definition of union dues. Section 3.01 A: "...the service fee shall be in an amount equal to the regular monthly dues and general assessments of members of the Union... ." A non-member should only have to pay for those union services that benefit him. Examples include grievance resolution and contract negotiation. The University of California uses this sort of "fair share" model to avoid burdening non-members with extra expenses.

Lax discipline.

All suspensions are forgotten after one to two years.

Section 16.06 F: "Adverse notations on the employee's record that result in a three (3) day suspension or less which are more than twelve (12) months old shall not be used for future discipline. Disciplinary suspensions of more than three (3) days which are more than two (2) years old shall not be used for future discipline." What can the employer do if the employee has a chronic problem?

If the employer suspends an employee, the union gets to pick the dates.

Section 16.07: "...The Union shall determine the dates of suspension."

Customer complaints can never be mentioned in an employee's performance evaluation. There is no restriction on compliments.

Section 38.17: "... A passenger complaint will not be referenced in the employee's evaluation. ..."

An employee can have 4 no-shows but still keep his job. After 6 months, his attendance record is forgotten.

The attendance discipline process involves a point system. Section 15.04 B: "... Each incident of no show shall be charged five (5) points..." According to Section 15.04 C, "Discipline up to and including termination" occurs after the employee has accumulated 23 points. Moreover, "After one hundred eighty (180) calendar days without an incident, all prior employee’s points will be rescinded."

After 8 months with the employer, an employee becomes exempt from attendance discipline and can have as many no-shows as he wants.

The loop-hole is burried in the middle of what appears to be a very strict discipline policy. Section 15.04 C: "An employee maintaining a balance of greater than ninety six (96) hours of Sick Leave shall not be subject to discipline under this Section ... ." To understand this, we have to go back a few pages. Section 15.01 A: "Each employee shall accrue Sick Leave while in paid status at the rate of .0462 hours per hour in paid status (approximately 12.0 days per year). ..." After 8 months on the job, the employee has 96 hours of sick leave and so becomes exempt from the attendance discipline policy.

An employee can arrive up to 5 minutes late every day, without risking discipline.

Section 15.04 B: "... An employee will be considered tardy if they [sic] arrive at work more than five minutes after their scheduled start time. ..."

An unlevel playing field.

The union can extend grievance deadlines by one year. The employer cannot get an extension unless the union agrees.

Want to delay the grievance process? If you're the employer, too bad. Section 16.08: "By agreement between the Agency and the Union, the limits set forth in this Article may be extended... ." If you're the union, just tell the employer that you're appealing to the mysterious "International Union", which is not defined anywhere in the contract. Later in Section 16.08: "... They shall be further extended by up to one year whenever the Union shall advise the Agency in writing that the grievance or claim has been appealed to the International Union..."

The employer must pay, and grant release time to, 3 union representatives, so that they can work against the employer. Any interaction between the union and the employer, on any topic, is covered.

Section 4.01 A: "Three (3) Union Officers or Committee members per day will be allowed release time from duty without loss of compensation for meeting and/or negotiating with the Agency on matters within the scope of representation... ." What is within the scope of representation? Everything! Section 24.02: "... hereby agree to collectively bargain in good faith on wages, hours, working conditions and other terms of employment, which are not specifically covered by this Agreement... ." Incidentally, the union does not reimburse the employer under Section 4.01 A. Section 4.01 B gives additional release time to 3 union members for whatever "Union purposes" they want. In that case, at least, the union has to reimburse the employer for part of the cost (I say part because extra work is offered first to senior employees, and the union doesn't cover any difference in pay, or any overtime.)

The employer has to provide free office space to the union.

Section 4.02 B: "The Agency shall provide office space to the Union and allow the Union to install its own telephone system. The Union shall be responsible for the installation, maintenance and billing charges for that system." This is a trick. Office rent (or the amortized cost of land and buildings owned) runs to hundreds of dollars a month, but a business telephone line costs $10. Shouldn't the union's office space be paid for from union dues? Do employees pay for the employer's office space?

Give-aways.

Employees work between 41.8 and 43.8 weeks per year but get paid for 52. (The workers are paid by the hour, so they are not like teachers, who put in more than 8 hours a day during the school year and may enjoy a vacation during the summer when no continuing education is required.)

An employee gets 3 to 5 weeks of paid vacation every year, plus 14 paid holidays (including his birthday -- how sweet!) and 12 "sick" days (see below). The figures are in Sections 26.01 A, 12.01, 12.02, 13.01, and 13.02.

The figures above include 2.4 weeks of sick leave which can be used whenever the employee says so ("stress" or "emergency" is sufficient) or cashed out at retirement.

In addition to the normal provision for "personal or family illness," Section 15.01 A offers "personal or family emergency, childcare problems, physical incapacity or undue mental stress". Section 15.01 B: "Unused Sick Leave may be accumulated with no limit." This would be fair, if the sick leave were for illness. But it turns into vacation time at retirement. Section 15.05 E: "An employee shall be paid for unused Sick Leave when she retires from the employment of the Agency after 20 years of service and attains the age of 55."

An employee who agrees to work on one of the 14 recognized holidays gets 2.5 to 3 days' pay for 1 days' work.

Section 12.01A lists the 14 holidays. Section 12.02A: "Holiday pay shall be as follows: Each full time employee shall be paid eight (8) hoursat her base wage rate for the holidays listed in Article 12.01. ..." Start adding. Section 12.01 B: "An employee who performs actual work on the holidays listed in Article 12.01A, shall be paid at one and one half (1 1/2) times her regular wage rate. The employee is guaranteed a minimum equal to twelve (12) hours at her regular wage rate. ... If the Agency requires an employee to perform service on Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year's Day the employee shall receive twelve (12) hours holiday pay in addition to one and one half times (1 1/2) her regular wage rate for all time worked." In a normal workplace, total pay (holiday pay, base pay and overtime) for work done on a holiday amounts to time-and-a-half or double-time, not more. "Holidays" like the employee's birthday don't count, either.

An employee can start collecting overtime before having worked 8 hours.

Section 26.04 A: "... In the case of any run or shift less than eight (8) hours, the Agency shall pay eight (8) hours pay time and these runs shall be considered as containing eight (8) hours work time." Fair enough. Now, can the employee be required to do anything between the end of his regular assignment and the end of his paid 8-hour day? Section 26.04 A: "...shall not be required to run extra trips or do extra work and shall not be required to work beyondtheir scheduled sign off time..." If he agrees to the "extra" work, what happens? Section 26.04 B: "An employee who performs extra work in addition to her regular scheduled assignment shall be paid at the overtime rate for all additional work."

 
 


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