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FRTA bus drivers have contract

Recorder/Paul Franz
A rider boards an FTRA bus at John W. Olver Transit Center in Greenfield.

Recorder/Paul Franz A rider boards an FTRA bus at John W. Olver Transit Center in Greenfield.

GREENFIELD — Passengers who ride Franklin Regional Transit Authority buses will get where they need to go without any disruptions, because bus drivers have a contract.

According to Omar El-Malah, the union representative who assisted FRTA drivers, mechanics and dispatchers during contract negotiations with Franklin Transit Management, the company representing FRTA, UE workers voted to ratify their contract Wednesday night, averting a strike, which he had said earlier in the week was a possibility.

El-Malah said drivers, mechanics and dispatchers decided at the end of the ratification meeting that they would build on their momentum by continuing to address issues with FRTA administrators, even though they’ve settled their contract. He said the workers will do so, while working under the new contract for the next couple of years.

El-Malah said workers said they will become more interactive with the FRTA’s 40-member advisory board, and will work with it, as well as FRTA Administrator Tina Cote, to secure more operational funding for the authority and its employees. He said they are willing to put aside the contentious relationship they have had with FRTA’s administration in the past.

Cote said this week that she would also like to see FRTA, the management company it hired, the board, and workers all work together toward a common cause: serving passengers the best they can.

El-Malah said workers will receive the retroactive 1.5 percent wage increase they asked for Fiscal 2012, and the retroactive 3 percent increase they asked for Fiscal 2013.

Workers had also asked for a 4 percent increase for half of Fiscal 2014, but instead accepted a 2.5 percent increase for the entire year.

El-Malah said there were no major concessions with benefits, and no changes to health insurance costs, retirement, overtime, and paid time off.

He said workers will receive a $100 increase to their maintenance clothing allowance.

Last weekend, FRTA bus drivers and others “rallied for respect” on the Town Common, asking passengers to hold Cote accountable for whatever happened with contract negotiations.

They said they didn’t want to strike, but would do so if they had to, and that would mean an interruption to service.

El-Malah said the workers had extended their contract three times since last July before threatening a strike.

FRTA drivers, mechanics and dispatchers are members of United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Local 274.

The reason FTM negotiated the contracts, instead of FRTA, is because according to Massachusetts law, transit authorities must hire outside management companies to hire, oversee and supervise all drivers, mechanics and dispatchers, as well as conduct contract negotiations for the transit authorities.

FRTA’s Fiscal 2013 operation budget is $6.2 million, and $1.1 million of that covers salaries and benefits for its 15 drivers, mechanics and dispatchers.

The local transit authority pays 85 percent of its employees’ health insurance, leaving them to pay 15 percent.

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