BT board chair Nancy Obermeyer receives AFSME ratified letter from union president Jeff Cisneros.
BT board chair Nancy Obermeyer.
BT general manager John Connell.
On Tuesday night, Bloomington Transit’s five-member board approved a new four-year collective bargaining agreement with AFSCME Local 613, the bus drivers union.
Under the new contract, for full-time fixed-route bus drivers in their third year of service, the hourly wage will increase from $19.69 now to $21.19 in January 2022. That’s a 7.6-percent increase.
By the fourth year of the contract, those drivers will be paid $25.69 an hour, which is a 30.5-percent increase over their current wage.
New BT general manager John Connell, who took over from retiring Lew May at the start of the month, told the board, “One of the goals that we set out was to establish an increase in pay and benefits where we could be in a position to offer careers, not jobs. And I think this contract does that.”
Connell continued, “It’s a four-year term. And in the fourth year, our wages will be very competitive.”
At its Tuesday meeting, the five-member Bloomington Transit board voted to approve a side letter agreement with AFSCME Local 613, which is the drivers union.
The agreement is hoped to aid recruitment of new drivers—BT is currently short by about a dozen. The agreement is also hoped to reduce a recent spate of cancelled bus runs, chronicled on BT’s Twitter account, due to lack of drivers on the overtime list.
The side letter increases starting pay for drivers by $2 an hour—from $16.32 to $18.32—and gives those with more experience a $1,000 essential-worker bonus.
The context of the phrase “essential worker” connects to the COVID-19 pandemic. Drivers were still expected to keep the buses running, even though the number of service hours was reduced.
To cover the cost of the essential-worker bonus, BT will use money it received through the federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act.
The side letter approved by the board also requires at least 12 drivers to sign up for the overtime list. The letter also clarifies the wording of the existing collective bargaining agreement (CBA) about how overtime can be mandated and the right to refuse a withdrawal from the overtime list.
At just a smidgen over $15 million, Bloomington Transit’s preliminary budget for 2022 is about 3.7 percent more than last year’s approved total amount.
That’s the number that Bloomington Transit’s general manager Lew May presented to BT’s five-member board at its meeting last Tuesday.
Some of that increase is due to an increase in employee compensation. The preliminary budget is based on a 3-percent increase in wages. How much the increase actually turns out to be will depend on the outcome of negotiations with the drivers, who are represented by AFSCME Local 613.
Those negotiations will need to take place over the next few months, because BT’s labor agreement ends on Dec. 31, 2021.
The timing for the back-and-forth between BT and drivers will coincide broadly with BT’s transition from May’s leadership, who has served 22 years as general manager, to John Connell’s, who was the board’s pick last week to succeed May. Connell is now operations manager for the Greater Lafayette Public Transportation Corporation.
BT’s board will likely vote on the final budget at its August meeting. The budget will then be presented to Bloomington’s city council for review and approval, in a separate vote from the city’s own budget.
And fixed-route service on Route 8 could see a one-year experimental replacement in September—with a combination of service provided through BT by Uber and Lyft.
Those were two takeaways from the Bloomington Transit board’s Tuesday night meeting.
The topics mean some significant work for the board and staff in the coming months, in addition to items already on their plates.
The board will need to make a decision on replacing 20-year veteran general manager Lew May, whose retirement is anticipated for August of this year. And the current collective bargaining agreement with the bus drivers union goes just through the end of the year, so it needs to be re-negotiated.
The BT board’s in-person Tuesday meeting was held in a way that offered access via the Zoom video conferencing platform.
Bloomington’s public bus system is about 10 drivers short of the number needed to ramp service back up to meet the needs of Indiana University students and affiliates in a post-COVID-19 climate.
“For us to be able to restore the full level of service to the IU campus, we would need to hire about 10 drivers,” Bloomington Transit general manager Lew May told the board at its monthly meeting on Tuesday.
Indiana University is resuming in-person classes in the fall.
May laid out the urgency of the hiring situation: “We’ve got about four months to go, to make those hires.”
To help with the hiring effort, at Tuesday’s meeting, BT’s board approved a series of incentives.
Incentives include: increasing the employee referral incentive from $1,000 to $3,000; implementing a new employee hiring incentive of $3,000; a $100 incentive for getting a COVID-19 vaccination.