I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Getting ECAT on Track Part II: This is What Might Prevent The County from Taking ECAT in-House.....

The transit union and Escambia County are now playing a high-stakes game of Chicken.  If nobody blinks then ECAT riders lose....

So with all the recent drama surrounding ECAT ---and the future of mass transit in Escambia County seemingly on the brink—I was hopeful after our last meeting on the subject that the Board could look seriously at bargaining with the drivers in an attempt to get a realistic work agreement with them which could lead  us, possibly, to bringing them back in-house.  

After all, the agreement we have with First Transit is ridiculous…..They get their payment and overhead and fees, they are “made whole” –then THEY get to go and bargain with the union (and the County has no say in these negotiations, thank you very much)—and then the County foots the bill for whatever gets negotiated.  We pick up the tab, the union and drivers win, First Transit wins, and the taxpayers who expect fiscal responsibility lose...  

Ridiculous, right?  

That’s what I said at the meeting and right here on this blog.  There would have to be lots of concessions from the drivers on overtime, holiday pay, the pay scale and how quickly new hires reach the top of it, health insurance subsidies, etc. etc.  There would have to be some significant changes before this Commissioner, Jeff Bergosh, would ever vote to bring these drivers in house.  But after the last meeting, and after discussions about getting a better collective bargaining agreement were had—I felt somewhat confident that we could at least start the process.

But then came this letter from the Union’s Lawyer.  No dice.  Union protections will remain no matter what, end of discussion.

Along with the letter came a lot of history that explains the strange nature of this evolved agreement that all but assures that the county MUST have a third party run transit locally.

You can read it all here— and I encourage you to because it is enlightening---but here’s the cliff notes:

Any company that wins the bid to run our transit system (we only had one respond in the last RFP we put out)—or even the County if we chose to bring the operation in house—is required to honor this 30-year old agreement which has tremendously onerous provisions that are much too favorable to union members (my opinion).  That’s right—no employee of the transit system “shall suffer any worsening of his

 wages, seniority, pension, vacation, health and welfare insurance, or any other benefit by reason of his transfer to a position with the successor-employer.” (From their agreement)

So now our options go from bad to worse.  

In speaking with some county leadership, the option of bringing them (ECAT) in house first, and then bargaining, was floated as a potential solution.  There's no way I would ever support that—there would be no impetus for the drivers to bargain away their outstanding agreement once they are here—we would lose that arm-wrestling contest and it would be time-consuming and costly--and we would be stuck with that agreement...

The nuclear option is we eliminate mass transit altogether—an option I do not favor.  (I’m working on a third option that leverages technology and the private sector to provide transportation to our population that is mired in poverty—more on that later….) Ending mass transit ensures that the county is no longer subject to this 30 year old collective bargaining agreement.  Again, the nuclear option....because with that option ECAT and Mass Transit in Escambia County vanishes.

So now a high stakes game of Chicken begins ---racing down the road on one end is the transit union—wanting to keep all the language and favorable terms they have accumulated in their CBAs over the years, wanting to keep their jobs, while simultaneously expressing an interest in being County employees so they can gain access to the very generous pension plan the state offers, the FRS.  They have now officially put the pedal to the metal when they allowed their lawyer, right out of the gate, to reject out-of-hand any waiver of the provisions of their previous contract to help with a potential transition to the County.

On the other end of the road, racing right toward the oncoming transit union, is the BCC.  We have all expressed interest in seeing mass transit continue if costs can be contained and efficiency is bolstered.  But if we cannot get out from under previously bargained, overly generous agreements to make this happen—I can realistically see the Board not continuing mass transit.  The jig is up, and too many people now know how astronomically expensive this system is juxtaposed with the tiny fraction of customers served.  Even by government standards—this system consumes too much taxpayer cash and serves too few people to continue to operate under the status quo.

If nobody blinks, we will collide and the losers will be those folks that genuinely rely on ECAT to get around Pensacola.

Stay tuned…..


Anonymous said...

Bergosh is nothing more then a politician that can't tell the truth...don't buy his bull

Unknown said...

Then maybe its time to use the Nuclear Option and Kill ECAT. There are community transportation companies that could take up the slack while the BOCC could study options and reorganize the Mass Transit options. If the drivers want to keep their jobs, they could work with the county on options.

Anonymous said...

I do understand 'why' you might have the opinion that you do as Union's work differently than right to work (for less) states. However, unions have and continue to bargain in good faith and sometimes that means concessions. I will add as one who has been in this very position, it never works if someone who does not perform the work or understand the entire workings of the job, to tell a driver/union what they will or will not do. Concessionary bargaining is just that, both sides work at an agreement that both sides can live with. No ECAT employee wants to lose their job. And if the Commisioners really thought about it, they don't want their constitutents without service. Maintence is expensive, and fuel will probably go back up at some point.

I would sincerely hope that every commissioner take the bus to work one morning. It will give you a much better prospective on the system. You could also talk to the patrons, see the importance the public transit system is to them.

Mr. Bergosh, I realize it is easy to demonize a system that you do not seem to value, but as an elect official I urge you to take a breath and see all sides.