Union fears RFTA hiring of labor negotiator
CARBONDALE — Negotiations between RFTA management and its new bus driver union aren’t scheduled to begin until November, but the rhetoric already was hot Thursday as a union leader accused the authority of planning to hire a “proven union buster” to help with talks.
Ed Cortez, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union local created after a vote by RFTA drivers in March, told the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board of directors that moves to hire labor attorney Tom Hock foreshadow hard-line negotiating tactics meant “to break the spirit of workers.”
“If you Google Tom Hock you can read for yourselves about the controversial and underhanded tactics used by this person who has destroyed reputations, cost the taxpayers of California hundreds of thousands of dollars and may have indirectly caused the deaths of two union employees,” Cortez told the board.
RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship didn’t respond to Cortez during the meeting at Carbondale Town Hall, but told the Post Independent that Hock has a 40-year track record of negotiating labor agreements, including one for RFTA in 2001 with a short-lived driver union.
“He wouldn’t work for anybody who wants him to be a union buster,” Blankenship said.
Hock’s company, Transdev North America, formerly Veolia Transportation, echoed that.
“Tom Hock is highly respected in the transit industry and has a long and distinguished career as a labor lawyer and negotiator for public transit agencies,” Ruth Otte, executive vice president for marketing & communications wrote in an email. “He has never ‘busted’ a union and ‘busting unions’ is not part of his agenda. On the contrary, over the past four decades, Tom Hock has led teams that concluded literally hundreds of successful labor agreements with numerous different unions.
She noted that Hock “does not set financial parameters or limits. These are established by the transit agency and Mr. Hock is hired to remain within the agency’s financial and other parameters or limits.”
BART TALKS GO SOUTH
Hock, vice president of labor negotiations for Transdev, stubbed his toe in 2013 negotiations with Bay Area Rapid Transit unions. Hired by BART for $399,000, Hock was replaced after an agreement fell apart. The acrimonious talks included a strike during which two union workers were struck and killed by a train driven by non-union workers.
A report dissecting what went wrong in the talks put some blame on Hock for the overall tone of negotiations:
“In retrospect, hiring Tom Hock as lead negotiator for BART was not in the best interests of the agency; positive information on his national reputation in the transit industry was shared, but little perspective was given to the board on how … unions would perceive his involvement. His style was rigid and disrespectful,” one board member told the report authors.
The report on the BART talks also was critical of the general manager’s position and tactics.
“Hock stated in an interview that he had warned the general manager that her position, if not modified, would result in a strike,” the report said.
His reputation among unions stems from difficult negotiations involving Hock in, among other places, Phoenix, Boston and, in 2007, Colorado Springs. There, a company owned by Hock and later bought by Veolia was ordered by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to pay $450,000 to six transit workers for racial discrimination that, the EEOC said, management did nothing to stop.
Blankenship said RFTA talks can be “calm and cool. It depends upon expectations.”
“These negotiations should be fairly straightforward,” he said, noting that RFTA has agreed to union requests since the March election.
‘CAN BE A GOOD PROCESS’
“The board and management care about the employees,” he said. “This can be a good process. We’ll share information about priorities and the union might have a better idea,” Blankenship said.
“I think their fears are not well-founded,” he said. However, “Who is going to negotiate the agreement is not necessarily a union decision.”
Cortez, in his comments to the board, said hiring Hock would “show that (board members) endorse violence, racism and dark labor tactics reminiscent of the days when management ruled through fear and intimidation and why unions were formed in the first place and later saved labor in America.”
Carbondale Mayor Stacey Bernot, who chairs the RFTA board, told Cortez that RFTA has not decided on its negotiating team.
She elaborated in an email to the PI: “While RFTA staff’s recommendation will carry considerable weight in the final decision of whether to retain Mr. Hock or not, Mr. Cortez’s comments were duly noted and will be factored into the board’s deliberation on the composition of our negotiation team.
“The RFTA Board remains committed to our overall mission and values, while being keenly aware of the integral part our employees play in our success. Some employees have chosen unionization as their preferred mechanism to advocate for their positions, and the RFTA board is hopeful that all sides will be able to continue to work together for the betterment of RFTA, the communities we serve and the region as a whole.”
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