Metro Union Won Furlough Battle Against County

By Erica C. Barnett June 7, 2010

This post has been updated.

Amalgamated Transit Union 587, the union representing Metro drivers and other employees, won a labor dispute in February against King County. The labor dispute was brought to my attention in the wake of my report Friday on Metro drivers, who enjoy the third-highest top pay---and received the second-highest raises over the past five years---of drivers around the country. (The data reflects only top pay; Metro did not compile information about average driver pay).

The union also won a separate labor dispute before the federal Public Employee Relations Commission; Metro spokeswoman Rochelle Ogershok says the county is "in the process of deciding whether it will appeal" that ruling.

The former complaint, filed by 12 Metro workers, centered on the fact that 66 Metro employees were required, along with about 2,000 other employees across the county, to take ten furlough days in 2009. Like other county employees, the Metro workers also received a 4.88 percent pay increase to make up for lost wages. The result was that the Metro employees' wages, overall, stayed exactly the same as they would have been if they hadn't taken a furlough. Other unionized county employees took furloughs and received offsetting raises, too; however, none of them filed a labor dispute against the county after doing so. As a result of the settlement, the ten Metro employees will receive $27,710 in lost wages, in addition to the 4.88 percent wage increase.

The savings from Metro furloughs amounted to about $1.7 million (out of a countywide total of about $23 million). Had the furloughs not been balanced by an equivalent wage increase, they would have resulted in additional savings. For example, a furlough for certain state employees approved by the legislature this year does not include a pay increase and will save an estimated $45 million.

Nonetheless, arguing that their contract "guarantees" all workers a five-day work week and pay for at least eight hours a day, the union said the furloughs constituted a layoff because they "involved a suspension from employment for 80 hours." They also argued that the county could have made up for Metro's budget shortfall by cutting things other than labor costs.

The county, in turn, argued that the furloughed workers continued to accrue vacation and sick leave and retirement pay during their furloughs, that the workers' contract did not guarantee them a five-day, 40-hour work week, and that nothing about the furloughs, basically, resembled a layoff.

The arbitrator ruled that although the Metro workers weren't guaranteed a five-day, 40-hour work week, the county had violated the rights 10 of the 12 workers who filed the complaint by turning them from salaried employees into hourly employees during the furlough, and ordered the county to pay them for the two weeks they were required to take off.
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