The board governing Grand Valley Transit met for the first time in three months Wednesday to receive legal advice and discuss the negotiations between the union representing transit employees and the company the board contracts with to provide transportation services.
After almost 90 minutes of the closed-door session, the special meeting was adjourned and no actions were taken.
The Grand Valley Regional Transportation Committee is monitoring wage negotiations between the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1776 and Transdev, the company hired by the transit board to provide transportation services. A federal mediator is scheduled to help with bargaining negotiations on Feb. 27 and 28, according to the union.
Though the local transit board has a contract with Transdev to provide GVT bus services, Transdev has its own contract with the workers, which expired at the end of 2018 when negotiations reached an impasse.
The most recent proposal from Transdev offered employees a starting salary of $13 per hour and capped wages at $15.97 per hour. That fell short of the union's demands — starting wages at $15 to $16 per hour and better health benefits. Employees currently make between $11.25 and $13.60 per hour. The union represents 32 GVT employees, and 46 employees are impacted by the negotiations. About 80 percent of the employees participated in a unanimous vote last week to authorize a strike should negotiations fall through.
Before the transportation committee voted to enter executive session Wednesday afternoon, Mesa County Commissioner Scott McInnis said he wanted to clarify what he said at the November meeting when GVT employees came to comment on the negotiations.
Union leaders have criticized McInnis and said he told fellow board members not to talk to GVT employees, but he said that's not what happened.
"I said, hey, we've got to be careful," he said, noting that the board's contract for services is with Transdev, not the employees of Transdev who are trying to negotiate higher wages from their employer.
During McInnis' comments, two GVT bus drivers rushed into the meeting just as their shifts ended. Though the agenda allowed for public comment and they were invited to speak, neither addressed the board.
The drivers, Gina Giannone and Seth Cadman, said they found out the meeting was happening a few hours earlier through social media.
"We didn't know what to say," Giannone said.
Both employees said a group of GVT workers tried to come to a transportation board meeting in January, which was canceled. Bylaws established in 2002 require the board to meet monthly, but Wednesday's meeting was the first since November.
The relationship between Transdev's employees and the local board representing Mesa County, Fruita and Palisade — who provide matching funds for transit — is indirect. The transportation board has a contract with the employer, not the workers themselves.
"We understand that completely," Cadman said. "Deal with them."
The local entities subsidizing the operating budget for GVT approved their contributions for 2019 in October. Federal grant money contributes nearly half of GVT's $3.5 million annual operating budget, fares contribute about 15 percent and local governments provide about 37 percent of the funds, according to the transit provider's annual report.
Cadman, who has worked for GVT for 2½ years, said he doesn't buy the board's statement that the money for 2019 was already approved and the timing is wrong for negotiation.
"They try to say it's not in the budget," he said. "That's not our problem."
Giannone, who has worked for GVT for 16 months, said the board chose to have a contract with Transdev, and that means the board members are connected to the low wages the employer has paid drivers.
Transdev was one of five companies that bid to provide GVT services, according to Mesa County Regional Transportation Planning Office Director Todd Hollenbeck.
"They sold us out to the lowest bidder," Giannone said.
The company that provided GVT services before Transdev, MV Transportation, didn't renegotiate a contract with the union prior to the end of its management period. The union formed during MV Transportation's time providing services in 2016. When Transdev took over management in 2017, the company negotiated a two-year contract with the union that ended in December.
The current contract between Transdev and the transportation committee is in its third year, and either party could end the contract to provide management of GVT at the end of 2019, according to Hollenbeck. The contract allows for up to seven more years on Transdev's contract based on annual extensions. That gives either the transportation board or the company the option to leave the arrangement at the end of every year.