Beaumont transit workers train for possible strike

source Kim Brent

After a weekend practice picket and further training, Beaumont’s unionized transportation workers say they are prepared for an impending strike.

Members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1031, which makes up about 28 of the transit system’s 43 employees, met on Sunday at the Beaumont Municipal Transit office on Milam Street to train for what leadership believes will be an eventual strike.

The local ATU has been meeting with the city of Beaumont’s contractor, a subsidiary of First Transit, since last October. They haven’t been able to secure any common ground with the company in their proposed contracts, according to leadership.

That frustration spilled into a Beaumont City Council meeting last month, when union members questioned the city’s refusal to get involved with negotiations. City staff advised the council there could be legal ramifications for intervening.

ATU Local 1031 Vice President Amanda Haynes said there hasn’t been further outreach from the council since then, and the latest offer from the company still excluded most of the union’s previously-stated goals for a contract.

“Haven’t heard anything else, and nothing has changed,” Haynes said. “We see what they intend to do based on the offer that was made.”

According to Haynes, the last contract offer didn’t include any immediate raise for 2021. However, it did include a $1,000 bonus for the year and a 3% increase for next year.

Along with more provisions for maintenance and safety, ATU has pursued compensation for working continuously through the pandemic and more consistent raises after missing out on annual raises guaranteed for the city’s direct employees.

It has also been looking for recompense for wages employees lost during the February winter storm that left most of the state covered with ice and without power for multiple days.

First Transit has said that many of the union’s requests would need City Council approval, since it controls the system’s operating contract, which already included a budget through late 2023.

“Our goal in alignment with our customer, the City of Beaumont, is to negotiate an agreement that is fair and reasonable,” representatives for First Transit wrote in an August email to the Enterprise. “Any additional funding requested by the ATU must be approved and allocated by the City of Beaumont. First Transit is contracted by the City of Beaumont and manages under a fixed annual budget.”

After Beaumont Municipal Transit made another contract offer in June, union members voted it down and gave union leadership the green light for a strike if negotiations worsened.

The local previously stuck with informational pickets at City Hall and appeals to the council, but its tactics could change soon.

“We are frustrated by the lack of progress and disrespect that Transit Management of Beaumont/First Transit have shown us,” Arlon Jackson, president and business agent of ATU Local 1031, said in a statement. “All we are asking for is a fair wage, safer working conditions, and to be respected like the hard-working employees that we are.”

After the members approved a strike, a work stoppage could happen at any point after leadership gives Beaumont Municipal Transit a seven-day notice that it doesn’t wish to temporarily renew their work agreement.

Haynes said the critical decision of a strike is still being considered, but preparing workers for the picket brings them that much closer to taking action if they can’t receive a serious proposal.

Written by Jacob Dick

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