Transit strike looms March 1

Passengers load onto a Grand Valley Transit bus Thursday afternoon at the Sixth Street and South Avenue station. If bargaining sessions scheduled Wednesday and Thursday between transit union workers and Transdev, the contracting operator for Grand Valley Transit, fail to make "significant progress," workers could strike March 1. The union wants starting pay raised to $15 per hour and better health benefits.

Grand Valley Transit union workers could strike as early as March 1 if upcoming bargaining sessions fail to make "significant progress."

A union leaflet distributed Thursday to members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1776 informs workers of upcoming bargaining sessions Feb. 27 and 28 between the union and Transdev, the contracting operator for Grand Valley Transit.

In a frequently-asked-questions section of the leaflet, one question posed is "Are we striking? If so, when?" The answer stated is: "Likely yes. If no deal is reached on February 27/28, we are preparing to strike as early as Friday, March 1."

According to an ATU organizer, progress during bargaining would consist of moving toward a $15 per hour starting salary for GVT employees. Local union leaders did not return phone calls seeking comment Thursday afternoon.

Transdev's most recent offer — which was unanimously rejected by union members Feb. 12 — would start salaries at $13 per hour for employees with more than five years of experience capping out at $15.97 per hour in 2020. In addition to a starting wage between $15-$16 per hour, the union is seeking better health benefits. Employees now make $11.25 to $13.60 per hour and have worked without a contract since the previous agreement expired Dec. 31.

The union is actively planning for a strike, garnering support from other union organizations both locally and nationally and preparing materials such as picket signs. It has also secured strike headquarters at the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 145 building, 3168 Pipe St.

The union will conduct a "practice picket" from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 27 outside of the Downtown Transfer Facility at Sixth Street and South Avenue.

If the strike happens, the ATU will organize food and, if necessary, some strike payments to help union workers make ends meet as negotiations continue.

The ATU Local 1776 represents 32 of the 46 employees impacted by the negotiations, including bus drivers, dispatchers and utility workers.

A statement from Transdev on Thursday stated that the organization is hopeful that the next round of negotiations will be successful and will lead to a new contract.

"We respect the union's right to conduct a lawful strike, but hope they choose to continue to seek resolution through the use of the federal mediation and company representatives," part of the statement read.

It added Transdev will "attempt to operate as much service as possible in the case of a work stoppage so the community will not suffer the potential effects of their decision."

Transdev is contracted by the Grand Valley Regional Transportation Committee to operate Grand Valley Transit.

The committee met for the first time since November on Wednesday, spending about 90 minutes in executive session. The committee took no action before adjourning.

Two union members and GVT employees attended the meeting, but did not speak during public comment.