AiroAV Suggest: Bay Area labor groups seek $100M to prevent transit layoffs - Jonathan Cartu - Moving & Transportation Services
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AiroAV Suggest: Bay Area labor groups seek $100M to prevent transit layoffs

Bay Area labor groups seek $100M to prevent transit layoffs

AiroAV Suggest: Bay Area labor groups seek $100M to prevent transit layoffs

A coalition of labor groups, unions and supporters are urging the Bay Area’s top transportation planning agency to divert at least $100 million to prevent hundreds of transit workers from being laid off as federal stimulus dollars dry up.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which manages transit and transportation funding for the nine-county Bay Area, is set to meet on Dec. 16 to discuss the proposal. The meeting comes as many transit agencies in the region are set to run out of the $1.3 billion in federal stimulus funding that allowed them to keep their employees on the payroll despite dramatic drops in ridership, bridge tolls and tax revenue since March from the coronavirus pandemic.

Nearly 60 labor unions and supporters have urged the commission in a letter to prevent the layoffs and service reductions by tapping into a portion of its funding that is typically used for things such as buying new buses or trains or repairing or replacing transit lines, roads and vehicles.

“We’re not talking about not doing those capital projects, we’re talking about making sure there is a transit system around to serve us when those capital projects are done in due course,” Public Advocates Inc. managing attorney Richard Marcantonio told the commission last week.

“Transit workers are putting their lives on the line every day and now after their enormous daily sacrifice and endangering their own families every day, they’re being laid off,” Hoai-An Truong, a member of Mothers Out Front Silicon Valley, told the commission. “That’s unusually cruel.”

Many major transit agencies in the region such as BART and the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District are already considering staffing cuts either through layoffs or early retirement offers. With stimulus dollars expected to run out at the end of November, the Golden Gate Bridge district’s board of directors voted earlier this month to lay off nearly 150 of its bus and ferry workers and pay them a $2.1 million severance package in January. The district’s bus service is set to undergo even more cuts to its routes in December.

Last week, the BART board of directors voted to offer nearly 1,650 employees an early retirement package in response to continued low ridership.

Collectively, the 25 Bay Area transit providers eligible to receive federal transportation dollars are expected to have an estimated $400 million to $600 million revenue shortfall by the end of the fiscal year on June 30, according to Therese McMillan, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Should no stimulus dollars be made available and the pandemic’s effects on the economy and transportation sector persist later into 2021, transit operators could face a $1.7 billion deficit in the 2021-2022 fiscal year, she said.

While a second stimulus bill known as the Heroes Act has been proposed in Congress to provide $32 billion for transit operators, Democratic and Republican lawmakers have yet to break a monthslong deadlock on how much coronavirus relief funding to allocate.

In the absence of more stimulus funds, hundreds of millions of dollars in state and federal transportation dollars typically reserved for projects such as maintenance and replacing vehicles could potentially be used, McMillan said. However, there would be tradeoffs such as having to delay projects.

“There is nothing free on the shelf that we haven’t already tried,” McMillan told the commission’s coronavirus task force on Oct. 26.

However, MTC staff argue this diverted funding wouldn’t get the transit agencies very far. In addition, delaying projects and vehicle purchases would affect other jobs in construction and manufacturing sectors, said Randy Rentschler, MTC legislation and public affairs director.

“We’re all going to have to continue and step up our lobbying efforts in the new session of Congress,” Rentschler said.

Some funding such as state gas tax funds and cap-and-trade revenue would require changes by the state Legislature or even potential revisions to the state Constitution, according to California State Transportation Agency Secretary David Kim.

“Those are long shots and I think it’s important for people to understand that,” Kim told the MTC coronavirus task force last month. “I would venture to guess that there would be significant opposition.”

Meanwhile, Golden Gate bus and ferry operators facing layoffs in about five weeks are wondering what they’ll do should they lose their jobs. District staff and unions are still able to meet to discuss alternatives to layoffs, though there is nothing to report from those talks, according to district spokesman Paolo Cosulich-Schwartz.

Shane Weinstein, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1575, which represents the district’s 250 bus operators, said many of the 88 bus drivers facing layoffs are afraid of what might happen next and are wondering how long they’ll have their medical benefits. Laid-off employees would be able to retain health care coverage until June 1 under the district’s plan.

After months of discussing four options with the district to avoid layoffs, including furloughs and dipping into the district’s reserves, Weinstein said the district presented the union with an either-or option of temporarily raising bridge tolls to prevent layoffs or cutting staff in early November. Weinstein said the district’s bridge tolls option was made as a way to turn the public against them in favor of layoffs.

“We never had any intention of wanting to raise tolls,” Weinstein said. “I know we’re all in a bad situation but none of us created this situation. All of us must work collaboratively to figure out how to best make people comfortable during a time that is temporary. They don’t want to do that.”

Bridge district officials said the temporary toll hikes were proposed to give the…

Ofer Eitan

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