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Westmoreland County transit union unhappy in talks

| Friday, May 24, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Drivers and mechanics for the Westmoreland County Transit Authority could take a strike vote in the summer if negotiations for a new labor contract produce no results, union officials said Thursday night.

More than two dozen members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1738 gathered for a meeting of the transit authority board to complain about the pace of negotiations and safety and maintenance concerns with the bus fleet.

Rank-and-file members are employees of National Express Transit, the private company that holds the contract to operate the authority's bus fleet. The union, which represents 59 drivers and mechanics here, has been working without a contract since August.

“We're still in the early stages of negotiations. We haven't even reached the economic issues. That's how bad it is,” said John Costa, international vice president of the New Jersey-based union.

National Express is in the third year of a five-year, $12.4 million deal to run the authority's bus system, which has seen steady increases in ridership for more than a decade.

Costa said the union wants to avoid a strike vote, but labor talks with the company have been unproductive. Union members could vote to strike after the next negotiating session, scheduled for June 17, Costa said.

Mike Rushin, chief operating officer for Chicago-based National Transit, declined to discuss specifics of the talks.

“We've been negotiating here in good faith,” Rushin said.

The authority operates 23 weekday and Saturday routes. It carried nearly 50,000 passengers in April and more than 472,000 riders last year. Transit authority officials told union members they will have no involvement in the talks.

“It's a private personnel matter,” Chairman Frank Tosto said. “We can only encourage everyone to negotiate in good faith.”

Union members complained that the 43-bus fleet is unsafe, poorly maintained and dirty. Rushin denied those allegations.

“We take safety very seriously. I believe we are putting safe vehicles out on the road,” Rushin said.

Authority Executive Director Larry Morris said he monitors the bus fleet's safety records, and he is satisfied there are no unsafe buses on the road.

“They've been responsive to the issues brought to them,” Morris said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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