Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. said Monday the city will have to come up with an unexpected $1 million by January to pay for JATRAN bus drivers.
Johnson informed members of the city council at a work session yesterday that the city will have to shell out $984,000 in back pay, vacation and other costs by January, and include an extra $560,000 in next year's city budget to fund wage increases for the city's 49 unionized bus drivers and its 14 maintenance employees.
"We've waited on this matter to be resolved. It was resolved in favor of the union, and will have consequences for JATRAN. So we're now trying to look at options as to how we're going to realize this amount of money," Johnson told the council.
The mayor added that the $560,000 will be a re-occurring annual 3-percent increase in wages that may increase still further as the years wear on, as cost-of-living increases dictate.
The city's most recent collective-bargaining agreement with union bus drivers expired in 2007 without a new agreement to set pay wages over a set period of time. The city had contracted McDonald Transit Management to run JATRAN, but McDonald Transit management failed to reach an agreement. The city has since replaced McDonald with Professional Transit Management, but the new company also failed to reach an agreement with the union. Both parties appealed to Houston Impartial Arbitrator Diane Dunham Massey. The union and city officials had an arbitration hearing on June 28 on the issue.
"At the arbitration hearing, the union came prepared with an impressive armory of comparables to support its contention that regardless of the perspective taken, the JATRAN wage rates lag significantly behind other properties in the industry," the Massey's Oct. 16 decision states. "The evidence indicates that JATRAN operators are some of the lowest paid fixed-route operators in the country."
The city of Jackson did not dispute Amalgamated Transit Union's figures, but instead argued that it is not in a position to grant the kind of wage increases that the union is demanding. The arbitrating board agreed that the city is indeed suffering revenue losses due to the bad economy.
"There can be no doubt that Jackson is going through challenging times of unique historical proportions," the decision states, adding that "the burden of balancing budgets should not be shifted from taxpayers and governments to the employees, who deserve fair compensation" for their services.
Council members had no vocal opposition to the price increase, but the fact that the arbitrator's decision means new unbudgeted expenditures for the city was clear. President Frank Bluntson appeared concerned. "What kind of time table are you talking about, mayor?"
"The union won't wait forever. We've got to figure out how to accommodate this. I'm hoping we can figure this out within the next 30 days," Johnson answered.
Outgoing Ward 1 Councilman Jeff Weill, who will be leaving the council to serve as Hinds County Circuit Court judge in January, did not envy the council's financial challenge.
"Y'all have fun," said Weill, who had previously suggested steep reductions in JATRAN routes as a means to cut costs over the last two years. He had also recommended dissolving the city service entirely.