Protesting employees of the Capital Area Transit System say they want the bus system’s top manager replaced, citing worsening work conditions and a sour relationship between management and union members.
About 20 members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1546 picketed City Hall on Monday morning demonstrating frustration with CATS management. According to its contract, the union cannot strike but can only hold an “informational protest.”
Union chapter Vice President Naomi Guy said CATS Chief Executive Officer Brian Marshall has had a bad relationship with union employees since his arrival in Baton Rouge three years ago.
“Mr. Marshall told us when he first got here that he didn’t like unions,” Guy said.
Marshall, who called the union’s accusations “ridiculous,” said it would be inappropriate to respond.
Guy said she and other employees feel betrayed because employees were actively involved in the campaign to get the CATS tax passed by canvassing neighborhoods and making calls, and now management is refusing to work with them on union issues.
Union President Larry Patin said the ATU even donated $10,000 to the campaign to get the tax passed.
The union is accusing CATS management of violating terms of its labor contract, and of dodging requests to meet with the union to renegotiate it. They’ve cited faulty equipment and the hiring of additional part-time employees as examples of a breach of contract.
Guy said the labor contract should be renegotiated annually, but CATS management has refused since 2009.
She said safer working conditions, higher wages and a new CEO are among the things the union wants to discuss in contract negotiations.
CATS bus drivers are among the lowest paid in the country, Marshall has said in past interviews.
“The biggest resolution we’d like to see is getting a new CEO,” said Debra Hamilton, a bus operator.
Hamilton, a bus operator for 12 years, was heavily involved in the CATS tax campaign but said she plans to resign because she “cannot work under that leadership.”
Gloria Brumskill, a bus operator for the past 9 years, also said she wants Marshall replaced.
“Within the last three years, these have been the worst conditions we’ve ever had,” she said.
Union organizers also said Marshall deserves part of the blame for the bus system’s recent financial problems, including a $2.1 million budget deficit this year and a $1.4 million budget deficit last year.
“He needs to explain to the public how we got $2.1 million worth of debt?” Patin said. “When he was brought here there was only $600,000 worth of debt.”
CATS officials have maintained those shortages stemmed from the loss of federal and state funds and the increasing cost of gas and maintenance.
Board President Jared Loftus said in an e-mail that he didn’t want to negotiate with the union through the news media.
“I understand that the union is eager to negotiate their contract,” he said in the e-mail. “There are many complaints that have been alleged; however, there are formal procedures in place to handle complaints. As a result, I cannot comment on their accuracy at this time.”
Union leaders said they would be picketing the CATS administrative building on Tuesday and would continue to picket until management agreed to meet.