Veolia Execs Shouldn't Be Surprised By Bus Drivers' Strike; Feds Found Merit to Union Claims that Veolia Reps Bargaining in Bad-Faith

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For nearly two years, Veolia executives have sat across the table from union representatives for Phoenix bus drivers in an attempt to hammer out an employment contract for workers.

No deals have been reached, and finally, union officials called for a strike on Friday night.

Tempe bus drivers -- who are also Veolia employees represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union -- joined the strike because they have also not reached a contract agreement with the French-based transit company.

Veolia reps say that are surprised by the strike.

Surprised? After two years of failed negotiations?

Hard to imagine how the strike comes as a surprise given feds findings of "merit" to claims by union officials that Veolia has been negotiating in bad faith, doing things like going back on contract items that have already been agreed upon and undermining union talks by dealing directly with employees.

But, most people won't look beyond the bus drivers walking a picket line and buses parked in the garage instead of picking up passengers. And that's what the transit giant is counting on.

At last check, Phoenix buses were only operating at 20 percent. The $388-million contract that Veolia was awarded in Phoenix specifies that the transit company had to keep service levels at least at 60 percent.

If the previous Phoenix administration, that is, former Mayor Phil Gordon, hadn't caved to Veolia and changed the terms of the city-bus contract, the transit company might today have more incentive to end that strike.

Here are some facts that may get overlooked as Valley bus passengers are scrambling to find alternatives ways to get to and from work or school.

Under the original contract, Veolia had to pay Phoenix $50,000 a day for each day that workers were on strike. Phoenix would have an extra $150,000 right now, but that provision was waived when Veolia threatened to walk away from Phoenix in 2010 -- just weeks before the new bus contract was supposed to go into effect.

Losing Veolia would have effectively left Phoenix scrambling to find another service provider. Instead, Phoenix settled, changed the original contract terms and handed Veolia nearly $30 million to settle the previous city-bus contract.

Veolia executives are doing it again -- not with threats of walking away from its contract, but with the ongoing strike.

At issue this time is Veolia's push for Phoenix get rid of, or significantly reduce, fines the transit corporation has to pay for instances of poor service, such as buses not arriving on time or not being properly maintained and serviced.

Phoenix already waived more than $2 million worth of fines for Veolia, but the company wants more.

It's painfully clear that Veolia is using the employees' livelihood as leverage because on the cover of the contract Veolia offered the union is this sentence: "This proposal is dependent upon the resolution of other issues that Veolia has with the City of Phoenix."

Just a few weeks ago, Veolia wanted Phoenix officials to amend the fines that the transit company had to pay for when it didn't live up to the terms of its contract.. But the item -- which didn't have the support of the city council -- was yanked from the agenda.

Veolia didn't have any leverage when the matter was first placed on the Phoenix council agenda, but now, with a disruptive strike underway -- guess what item is expected to make an appearance on the March 21 city council agenda?

Yep, a reconsideration of those pesky fines that Veolia is contractually obligated, and agreed, to pay in the event that it provided bus passengers poor service or didn't live up to Phoenix's expectations.

The sentence on the cover of Veolia's offer to bus drivers may as well read: "We will be happy to resolve union issues, end the strike and honor this proposal just as soon as we can get the city to once again cave into our demands and, not only get rid of those costly fines, but also reimburse us for the fines we've already paid."

That would have at least been a more honest approach.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, who inherited the transit mess from Gordon, tells New Times that he will work in good faith with Veolia on any issues they have with the city, but he first expects Veolia to negotiate with union reps until the issues are resolved.

But, Veolia would rather play politics and blame the strike on employees.

Veolia executives -- who were awarded sizable bonuses on the same day that bus drivers' agreed to forfeit their own pay and go on strike -- want the public to see this work stoppage as a case of greedy employees.

Veolia released a statement on Friday, in part highlighting that Phoenix bus operators are the "highest paid bus operators in the southwestern United States."

The statement cites that about 97 percent of drivers earn the current top wage rate of $22.52 per hour, before overtime.

But its doesn't explain that those top wages only come after an employee has been there for a decade or longer. And there certainly wasn't any mention of the bonuses that Veolia executives were handed.

Veolia also notes in its statement that its officials "remain committed to the good faith bargaining sessions."

But the past two years hardly support the narrative Veolia executives are trying to create.

Consider that the National Labor Relations Board found that Veolia has repeatedly violated federal labor laws. In a response denying Veolia execs request for more time to answer the complaints, the regional director of the NLRB wrote:

"The number and severity of the alleged unfair labor practices in this case, as well as the fact that [Veolia] has failed to comply with a prior [NLRB] Settlement Agreement, makes plain that a postponement of the trial in this case is not warranted."

Other federal records show that the NLRB "found merit to allegations made" by union officials that Veolia was negotiating in bad faith, was undercutting talks by dealing directly with employees and putting back on the negotiation tables matter that both parties had previously agreed on.

A federal agency found merit to allegations that Veolia has been bargaining in "bad faith," and the corporate giant is "surprised" that workers went on strike.

Read more about how Gordon helped Veolia muscle $30 million out of Phoenix, about how his ex-girlfriend was working for Veolia and coaching executives on how to win the contract, about how the feds are now investigating ties between Gordon and Veolia.

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16 comments
Breakerthor
Breakerthor

In coming to rely on public transportation as my primary means of getting around the Valley, the past 2 weeks have been nothing short of a disaster.

Veolia Transportation, the corporation that provides much of the public transit for the Valley, has impacted many people in their decision to strike.  Is it reasonable to take out the frustrations you are having with your employer on those to whom you provide a service?  Is it fair to leave those with limited alternate means of transportation in a lurch?  Thinking nothing about the limited funds that many who use public transportation have available, and limited time to activate those alternate means of transportation, Veolia Transportation has caused life-changing problems to its' customers.

By eliminating service on many routes, scalng back to a Sunday schedule on some routes and leaving other routes unaffected, Veolia Transportation has affected people who rely on the bus to get to work, to school, to their daily activities.  I work as a unionized transportation employee, though for an airline, not a public mass transit company.  Would it be fair if that company decided to strike the day you were scheduled to go on vacation?  Would it be an inconvenience for you to have to rearrange all of your travel plans?  Would you be angry that the airline chose the day you were leaving to go on strike?  Mass transit is in a different category, because as the primary provider of public transportation, there are few alternatives available.  Mass transit is intended to get folks to within a reasonable distance of their destination for a reasonable price.

Could Veolia Transportation have been more effective in their strike efforts?  As I see it, they could have chosen to impact express routes, leaving local routes unaffected.  The people who travel express routes tend to be of a higher financial bracket than those who utilize local routes.  Impacting express service would not have left large areas of Phoenix and Tempe without service.  It would have reinforced that the employees of Veolia Transportation have a grievance by making transit less available on a few specialized routes and still allowed the folks who have no choice but to rely on mass transit to get to their jobs/classes/appointments.

Do you know anyone who lost their job because of Veolia Transportation going on strike?

I do.

Jim Kay
Jim Kay

What a bunch of scumbags. ve management and phil gorden need to be jailed.

Ladyday
Ladyday

It appears that any & everyone that has ever been under Veolia Management has had many problems with them. They are not the one to manage anyone since they are not about working with people especailly where theres a Union in place. After viewing all the many comments I'm inclined agree with most. I don't like anyone outside the country dealing with our transit systems. Since this is the first thing they hit when we are under attact.

K.t. Domino
K.t. Domino

So, these bus drivers have it SO hard, with 97% of them making over $22 an hour and getting over a month of paid vacation. I'd love to see them try working for a call center here in the valley, where they like to only offer about $9 usually for walking excessively rude customers through crap they are too stupid to understand, where even if you HAVE vacation time you have to fight tooth and nail to even use a day of it, and where you can be fired for a convicted felon stealing your car on a work day, causing you to miss a day of work. These drivers need to appreciate what they have... And be held liable for ANY lost jobs as a result of their selfishness.

Bnbk
Bnbk

Hey Monica,I just heard from a cousin down at the picket lines at 22nd ave & Lower Buckeye that Veolia,Union Reps & the Mayor are set to sit down & talk at 1:00 Pm today. Does PNT have plans to cover this?

T H
T H

""""""""""""""""""""""
Veolia released a statement on Friday, in part highlighting that Phoenix bus operators are the "highest paid bus operators in the southwestern United States.
"The statement cites that about 97 percent of drivers earn the current top wage rate of $22.52 per hour, before overtime.
But its doesn't explain that those top wages only come after an employee has been there for a decade or longer. And there certainly wasn't any mention of the bonuses that Veolia executives were handed.
"""""""""""""""""""

It doesn't matter how long it takes to get there ... 97% ... are getting paid $22.52/hr.  Hello!?!?!?  Explain that to the ridership ... and the tax payers, that keep supporting those wages to these sniveling drivers.

What does it matter what the executives get paid?  That has nothing to do with the contract.

Time to go Ronald Reagan ... fire them all!  If the country can live through replacing the Air Traffic Controllers in 1981 ... I think the citizens of Phoenix can go through replacing 600+ bus drivers.  Please.  If you don't like it ... GET ANOTHER JOB!  There are thousands of unemployed that would love to be making $22.52/hr ... or even half of that.

So far I haven't seen a "Top 10 List" of what the drivers want.  They just keep sniveling about Veolia isn't negotiating fairly.  Really?  WHAT DO YOU WANT???

I think you either don't know what you want (making it very hard to negotiate) or you want more than you're willing to admit (because you know you can't defend it.)

I'm willing to be on the Bus Drivers side ... but give me something ... give me a list of specific legitimate demands.

Bnbk
Bnbk

You are obviously a shill for that NON-AMERICAN company Veolia. "There are thousands of unemployed that would like to be making 22.52/hr...or even half of that.  Well less than half of that is what Veolia offers it's new drivers...........These union workers know exactly what they want & deserve....The ones who can't defend their position is Veolia,but nice try anyway.......Here is a link that lays out this dispute very nicely.These are the facts in this dispute,which of course Veolia would rather the public not be made aware of,enjoy & thanks for playing.......hppt://www.examiner.com/maricopa-coun...

Bnbk
Bnbk

If link doesn't work,you can just google -examiner phoenix bus drivers on strike. This should bring up article with all the facts pertaining to this strike.

guest
guest

What unfair labor practices? I hear time and time again that Veolia Transportation engaged in unfair labor practices, yet no one can seem to come out and list them. Just a vague reference...

From everyone and everything I've heard, this bus strike is in bad taste and bad timing. The majority of the public is NOT behind this. Ever heard the saying, a million people can't be wrong?

Bnbk
Bnbk

The NLRB has all the facts in this case. Are you calling the NLRB liars ?

Matt Woods
Matt Woods

Thank you for sharing the truth about Veolias dirty dealings with the bus operators. This strike was caused by foreign corporate greed... not by working class bus operators! 

Lovemy2girls
Lovemy2girls

thank you bfor posting the truth and letting the public know what the bus drivers are up against.

B Swanson
B Swanson

I am a retired bus driver, this is the first time I have heard the truth come out. Your report is very accurate. Veolia has lied and cheated their way through this past two years. First Transit who operates most of the remaining routes gave their employees a fair contract and the union members didn't have any problem agreeing to the contract. Veolia has been having troubles with contract all around the world.

Philip
Philip

veolia needs to be run out of the USA

Bnbk
Bnbk

Thank you PNT for the excellent coverage of this issue. The Arizone Republican barely touched on the facts behind this strike. Great job !

Alice in Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland

Thank you, Phil Gordon.

Something needs to be done. The more I learn the more I get pissed.

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