URGENT Settlement Reached In New Orleans Transit Standoff
NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ A tentative agreement was reached early Friday, delaying for the second time a walkout by the union representing more than 600 bus and streetcar drivers.
″A tentative agreement has been reached and we will urge the members to ratify it,″ said Eugene Camese, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1560.
The tentative settlement was announced at 12:30 a.m. CDT. Just a few hours earlier, the Regional Transit Authority vowed to continue ″a minimum network of service″ - with replacement drivers - for the system’s 200,000 daily riders if there is a strike.
Informal talks began Thursday afternoon at ATU headquarters among the RTA, ATU Local 150 and Mitch Ledet, a member of the transit authority’s board of directors and also president of New Orleans’ Teamsters’ Union.
The secret talks then shifted to a downtown hotel Thursday night.
At RTA headquarters, a spokeswoman said a contingency plan was being shaped even while informal negotiations were continuing with the union that represents 625 of the system’s 700 drivers.
″Recruiting could go into effect immediately,″ said Kern Reese, the RTA’s acting chairman.
″We plan to issue guidelines on driver qualifications tomorrow,″ said RTA Executive Director Dean Bell. ″ ... We are committed to providing riders at least with a minimum network of service.″
Earlier, Mayor Sidney Barthelemy suggested that new drivers might be hired if transit workers strike.
The RTA said it had a strike plan in place but refused to say what the plan entailed. Barthelemy said he had no details about the plan but added: ″If that means they have to hire new people, I’m sure they’re going to hire new people.″
Barthelemy said he was concerned that traffic congestion will increase as RTA users resort to driving their own cars to work, but there were no plans to call in extra police.
″Hopefully, it will not result in more police overtime because we don’t have any overtime money for police right now,″ he said. The city has been cutting expenses to deal with a projected $30 million budget deficit.
An 81-day transit strike that began in December 1974 cost the city’s economy an estimated $1.5 million a day and Barthelemy said a similar strike this year could be just about as devestating.
Smith Crocken, the union local’s secretary treasurer, said that as the city economy tightens, full-time drivers wanted assurances that they would not be laid off in favor of part-time drivers. They also wanted to ensure their full- time status.
″We cannot allow our full-time operators to be bumped back into a part time position,″ Crocken said in an interview.
Drivers also have expressed displeasure with the agreement’s lack of a proposed lump-sum bonus amounting to $600 for full-time drivers and $375 for part-time drivers.
Top-scale wage earners would have received a phased-in pay raise increasing their hourly wage from $9.83 to $10.50 under the rejected agreement.
City officials have predicted that public sentiment for a strike will be low in light of the city’s 11 percent unemployment rate and a statewide jobless rate of 13 percent.
Crocken said the union believes the public will support the drivers.
″I think when they find out the issue involved they will see that we are not asking for any extremes,″ he said.