Alright gang...thus far...this is how it's going.
Our current contract expired on September 11th (I know...strange). For a period of six weeks prior to that, our union leaders/representatives have been at the negotiation table with the Cornell Board of Directors and our manager(s)...hashing out what our new contract should contain. As negotiations were going on...various questions such as "So..how's it going so far?" have been met with answers like, "Very slow going..." or "...kinda like pulling teeth" (which is par for the course when it comes to labor contract negotiations anyway). Most of us were getting the feeling that a strike--which had been unanimously voted upon 3 weeks back, would be imminent. On the day of September 11th, while our union leaders and reps were still good and at it, a good number of us drivers were being asked by passengers if a strike was possible. Most of us shrugged...which was true....we didn't know any better than they did what was going to unfold.
At 3am of September 12th, a "tentative agreement" had been hammered out between our union people and the Board. Five hours PRIOR to that, a blanket email had been sent to the faculty, staff and personnel of Cornell that "...TCAT service will continue as normal on September 12th.."
Que!!?? How the hell did somebody figure that there'd be no strike before even our own union people/drivers did!? What if no tentative agreement had been reached!? How stupid would that person who sent the email have looked if we WERE picketing!? And just because a "tentative agreement" had been reached...that DOESN'T mean that it's been RATIFIED! I can't begin to tell you how many times a passenger or another would ask me that next day, "So...do you like your new contract??" I gave the same answer each time out..."Buddy, I haven't even SEEN the new contract yet...NONE of us have!"
I tell you this folks...something's SERIOUSLY up in Dodge. How the hell is it that a tentative agreement had been reached, after seventeen total hours spent bargaining, when for the six week period PRIOR to that, things weren't looking so good?? Things were going "..so slow..."?? Barring the underlying concern of a walk-out, and the knowledge that the deadline had come and gone...I gotta tell ya...before the last contract, almost a WHOLE year had transpired before we'd ratified what became the old contract! The sources of contention hasn't even really revolved around money...while that IS part of it all...the biggest sources of contention were the following:
1) The current Attendance Policy/Point system: Some of you already know what this is...for those who don't...TCAT management administers 'points' for each time you're late or call in sick. For that matter, you're given a point even if your car breaks down (either at home or en route to work), if you have a court date (barring jury duty), if you fall ill during your shift (ill enough to warrant being taken off the road), if you're late for ANY reason (including having to wait for a 150-200 car cargo train to pass the tracks we all gotta cross to get here--and there's no set schedule those cargo trains follow either...). Other than death, or that which falls under FMLA guidelines, or jury duty...you can obtain points for virtually any other attendance inhibiting infraction. The only way to "work off" any points accrued is to arrive to work on time for every day scheduled for 90 straight days, or...you can lose a point if a full year has passed since the first (or earliest) point you'd received (if you didn't lose any via 90 day perfect attendance notifications...which enables you to kill off 4 points a year and earn a 'free' day). All told...if you receive 11 points total...you're terminated. You receive written/verbal notices upon receipt of your fifth point, and every point thereafter. I don't think ANY of us realized just how EASY it'd be to garner 7, 8, or more points!! It was very quickly realized that there were NO safety nets of any kind...and the grievances filed by many drivers over the last 3 years proved that there needed to be some serious tweaks made to modify and improve this policy to buy some breathing room so that only select reasons given would warrant points. What really makes no sense with this policy at all, is that we all receive hours accrued for sick time, personal leave time, vacation time, etc..etc. What good are these accrued hours if we're given the impression that they can never be used??
2) Our health insurance company: Simply put...we're paying way too much. Nowhere near as much as we respectively would had we all obtained our OWN insurance, to be sure...but our international representative of our Union sees the rates we're paying as "..utterly unacceptable," especially since the hikes in our rates would damn near annihilate each pay raise we'd receive (and wouldn't you know it...these rate hikes came along JUST as our raises came!). In fact, the meeting we're supposed to have to go over the terms that had been "tentatively agreed" upon is on October 5th. The reason for the lapse is, our union and our HR people want some time to drum up quotes and info from alternative health insurance companies to see who could provide equal or better coverage for more reasonable rates...
3) Split-shifts and their 'premiums' : Split shifts are paid in quarterly fractions...if you have three working days with 4 hour split shifts in them, you'll get 4-5 hours of that time paid in straight time. The problem is, those work assignments with 4 hour splits in them amount to 13-15 hour days....in reality, you're only getting paid for 8-9 hours. Sometimes those splits are handy for errand running, or honoring medical/dental appointments without worrying about obtaining points or trying to schedule a date...but for most of us....we're stuck here...especially those of us who don't live close enough to the job...why shouldn't we get paid MORE for those splits?? Who says our work has to be strictly relegated to DRIVING!? We could be training people who are holding CDL permits...getting them familiar with the buses and maybe some of the routes, we could be pre-tripping buses for those drivers scheduled to come in between the hours of 10am-1pm so that they can just hop in and drive away...thereby saving time and adding efficiency...there's a whole slew of work that can be done!!
Lastly, comes the economic stakes. We knew LONG before the time for negotiations began that the Board/TCAT would be crying "poor boy" given the rising costs of diesel fuel (we're six figures behind the 8-ball there), as well as the rates being paid for our fleet insurance (admittedly, the # of accidents incurred this year outweighs last year by 13). We knew getting a fair, equitable raise would be (arguably) the toughest issue...it might be interesting to note here, however...that Cornell was given a grant of some $20M geared to assist transportation and some other related issues. We wonder now, if ANY of that grant $ had been divided and apportioned toward TCAT for the extensive service we provide to Cornell.
We'll know more come October 5th...but man...I can't help (STILL) but wonder how it is they managed to hammer out a deal worth pawing over in 17 hours that six prior weeks found so trying to accomplish...