LANSING, Mich. — Bus drivers and mechanics have yet to come to an agreement with CATA executives on a new contract. The negotiations have been going on since November 2019.
“We’ve been bargaining for 17 months, working under an old contract,” said Steve Soliz, a CATA bus driver and president of ATU Local 1039, the union that represents 260 CATA bus drivers and mechanics.
“The company is threatening to impose or implement a new contract on us that is not good,” he said.
Soliz has worked as a CATA bus driver for more than 30 years and has been at the center of negotiations. He said a huge part of the hold up has to do with overtime pay.
Rather than making "intelligent changes," he said, CATA seems to be saying "we’re just not going to pay people for the extra work anymore."
CATA said in a written statement that it is “committed to ensuring a final contract that is fair and equitable to all of our stakeholders, including Lansing area taxpayers who support the agency, riders, the communities CATA serves and, of course, our drivers; a contract that maintains CATA’s financial health for future operations. We’ve taken the Fact Finder’s recommendations to heart and have returned to the table with the assistance of a state mediator to achieve those goals.”
CATA appointed Brad Funkhouser as CEO in 2018. He replaced Sandy Dragoo, who led the organization for 32 years. One of the goals he’s been vocal about is fixing excessive overtime from bus drivers.
Data from 2018 shows some bus drivers earning well over $100,000 a year due to overtime.
"I guess the thought of a driver making more than a $100,000 a year really bothers the man and the public,” Soliz said. “I think if a man works the hours, he should be paid for it and we should be thanking him. Like, we’re working in the pandemic.”
Drivers are paid at a 150 percent rate for any hours past an eight-hour work day. CATA has proposed shifting that to pay overtime for anything over a 40-hour work week. ATU Local 1039 rejected that proposal.
“They still have the same package on the table that they had before the pandemic and they received $34 million,” Soliz said. “This is just ridiculous.”
CATA does have the right to make contractual changes, even if the union doesn’t agree with them, but a CATA spokesperson said Funkerhouse doesn’t want it to get to that point.
While Soliz understands some of CATA’s concerns, he’s left feeling unappreciated.
“They call us heroes publicly but treat us like zeros,” he said.