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CATS, drivers reach tentative deal

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ROBERT LAHSER - THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER
A CATS bus heads along Trade street Uptown Charlotte.

The Charlotte Area Transit System’s management company and the union that represents nearly 600 bus drivers have reached a tentative deal to avert a strike that would have begun shortly after midnight Monday.

The two sides have been negotiating for six months over a new contract. The tentative agreement – which still must be ratified by drivers before Jan. 3 – would create a new three-year contract, said Olaf Kinard, a marketing manager for CATS.

CATS said all service will operate on a normal schedule Tuesday.

“We are pleased that TMOC and its employees were able to reach a tentative labor agreement that maintains service to CATS customers,” CATS chief executive Carolyn Flowers said in a statement. “The tentative labor agreement provides for fair compensation while balancing operations costs and maintaining services to our 70,000 weekday bus customers.”

Over the weekend, members of United Transportation Union Local 1715 reportedly voted to strike if an agreement hadn’t been reached at the end of a temporary labor contract, which expired at midnight.

Their membership is scheduled to vote on the new deal Thursday.

The strike would have impacted about 70,000 passenger trips on CATS buses. The Lynx Blue Line would still have operated, as its drivers are city employees and operate under different work rules. The light-rail line handles about 15,000 passenger trips a day.

CATS bus drivers officially work for Transit Management of Charlotte, a private company contracted with CATS to run its bus system. N.C. state law prohibits collective bargaining for public employees, while the federal government mandates that transit systems receiving federal dollars allow it for workers.

As a workaround, CATS hires a private company to negotiate with its drivers.

Transit Management announced Friday it was seeking binding arbitration to settle the dispute, but that was rejected by members of the union.

As of Monday morning, Kinard said almost all issues had been resolved, including the size of pay increases. But he said CATS and its management company had been unable to agree on a plan for how bus drivers pick their schedules, or runs.

That apparently has been resolved for now.

Kevin Moss of UTU 1715 couldn’t be reached for comment.

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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