December 19, 2012
One of Gov. Jerry Brown's signature pieces of legislation, the Public Employees Pension Reform Act, is putting the brakes on public transit in the Monterey Bay region.
About 135 Monterey-Salinas bus drivers are represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union, which is asking the U.S. Department of Labor to read into the fine print of AB 340, with concerns that the public pension reform could limit their collective bargaining powers.
MST applied for $3 million in federal funds to cover operations (including, ironically, driver salaries), triggering a routine review of its environmental and labor compliance. The union filed an objection concerning its right to collective bargaining, which may be the first test of an interpretation of AB 340, which the union claims limits workers' bargaining power for benefits.
"Our filing with the DOL is not to withhold federal funds," says the union's general counsel, Robert Molofsky. "It’s to ensure that the conditions satisfy the federal statute."
If the Department of Labor blocks the grant application because it decides MST's compliance with AB 340 would violate collective bargaining rules, MST will implement major service cuts early next year. On Dec. 17, the board of directors approved temporary cuts, and the board is accepting public comment about potential longer-term service reductions.
Molofsky and MST CEO Sedoryk are both optimistic that the parties will reach a resolution, considering it's in both the union's and MST's best interest to get the funding to come through.
"We understand the hardship it might cause as a service disruption, and also for a loss of jobs for our members," Molofsky says. "However, we have to protect our collective bargaining rights."
Sedoryk is scheduled to meet Thursday with Department of Labor officials in an effort to find a resolution that will allow the grant application to proceed. If they fail to find a middle ground, MST has scheduled two meetings for the first week of January to discuss service cuts.
Even if they do reach an agreement before Dec. 31, Sedoryk plans to host community meetings to discuss contingency plans for potential future service cuts anyway. The next round of federal grant applications is due March 31.
"This seems to be happening more frequently," Sedoryk says. "We need public meetings for future contingency plans." MST relies on federal funding for about a quarter of its budget.
If there is no agreement, MST will hold public meetings to solicit feedback on service cuts. Those meetings are 5:30 pm on Wednesday, Jan. 2 at Salinas City Hall, 200 Lincoln Ave., and 5:30pm on Thursday Jan. 3 at the Monterey Bus Stop Shop, 150 Del Monte Ave. Submit comments to email@example.com.