Union workers with the Capital Area Transit System say they called off their protests against management Tuesday afternoon after two mornings of demonstrations, because bus system managers agreed to meet with the union officials.
Union representatives met with CATS management and three neutral elected officials Tuesday, said Larry Patin, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1546, and agreed to sit down together in the coming weeks informally to try to resolve the union’s grievances.
Patin said his concerns about working conditions, changing policies and going three years without renegotiating the labor contract persist, but he said he felt management was willing to cooperate in addressing those issues.
Metro Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis, who is a board member, and state Reps. Alfred Williams, D-Baton Rouge, and Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, were the elected officials who attended the meeting.
Patin said they were called in to “keep the peace.”
“We asked them to come so we could give a different view, and wouldn’t have a whole lot of name-calling,” Patin said.
Both parties were asked to come back with a list of concerns, Collins-Lewis said.
She said the meeting was positive, and she said she was optimistic the issues will be resolved.
“The union employees and the administration both want one thing and that’s for the bus system to be desirable for the people we serve,” Collins-Lewis said.
The union will begin formally negotiating parts of its labor contract with CATS on July 19 and July 20, officials said.
Negotiations will focus on such issues as working conditions, policies and procedures and will not address raises, according to Naomi Guy, union vice president.
“There’s no sense in talking about wages yet, until we get the money,” she said.
Baton Rouge and Baker voters approved a 10.6-mill property tax to fund CATS, but the revenue won’t be realized until next year.
“Raises are not the issue,” Guy said. “It’s working conditions that we wanted to talk about.”
The union protested outside of CATS and City Hall this week, in part they said, because management was not responding to requests to renegotiate the contract.
The CATS board counsel, Wendell Lindsay, said last week, before the protests were launched, that he had already spoken with national union representatives and a decision was made to begin renegotiation meetings in July.
The union only heard about plans for the meeting this week, Guy said.
CATS Chief Executive Officer Brian Marshall deferred all comment to the board’s chairman, Jared Loftus.
Loftus said he couldn’t speak to the specific issues because the union members haven’t filed formal grievances.
“I believe there is a culture shift happening at CATS and we’ve had who knows how many years of mismanagement and things not being done like they’re supposed to be in the past,” Loftus said. “Now I believe we have a capable CEO who is putting processes and procedures in place to hold us accountable for our actions.”
Patin and about 20 union members attended a CATS board meeting, many wearing hats embroidered with ATU for their union acronym, but didn’t make any statements.
In other business, the CATS board voted Tuesday to request permission from the state Bond Commission to seek a $3 million bridge loan to address a budget shortfall for the year.
The voter-approved property tax isn’t collected until December, which means the CATS budget is still in a $2.1 million deficit for this year.
The deficit stems from the loss of state and federal grants, and the increasing cost of fuel and maintenance, officials have said.
The loan should be issued in July and will be paid back with tax revenue next year, on March 1, said Gary Owens, CATS chief financial officer.
Loftus said paying back the loan next year will not affect CATS’ ability to deliver the transit reforms on schedule.