Chicago ATU 308 CTA rail union workers favor strike in preliminary vote "Our labor is our weapon."

Chicago ATU 308 CTA rail union workers favor strike in preliminary vote "Our labor is our weapon."
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-cta-strike-vote-071...
CTA

An outbound Green Line train approaches the 35th Street stop of the CTA 'L' on June 1, 2017, in Chicago. CTA rail workers have voted overwhelmingly in favor of a strike in a preliminary, unofficial vote, union representatives said on July 10, 2017. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)
Mary Wisniewski Mary Wisniewski Contact Reporter
Chicago Tribune
Frustrated after 18 months of negotiations for a new contract, CTA rail workers have voted overwhelmingly in favor of a strike in a preliminary, unofficial vote, union representatives said Monday.

About a third of 3,000 union members cast their ballots last week, with 98 percent favoring a strike, said Kenneth Franklin, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308. Members of the union include those who operate "L" trains, janitors, track welders, car repairers and other rail system workers.

Franklin called the preliminary vote, which has not been tried before in Local 308 history, a "good litmus test" to sound out membership on the possibility of a strike. He could not say when an actual, official strike vote could be taken.

CTA spokesman Brian Steele said a strike would be illegal, under state law and the current collective bargaining agreement, which still applies even though it has expired. Franklin disagreed, noting that the union has consulted lawyers on the issue. Franklin said the Chicago Transit Authority's offers have been "disrespectful."

"Their proposals basically gut our rights," Franklin said. "One of the negotiators for the CTA has stated on more than one occasion that they're in the business of saving money."

One issue cited by the union is a CTA proposal to increase employee contributions to health care costs. "It's a real sore subject for our members," Franklin said.

Franklin said the union also wants better working conditions. He said the "swing shift," which has some operators working from 6 to 10 a.m. and then again from 2 to 6 p.m., compromises quality of life.

Franklin said the union also wants CTA President Dorval Carter and Chicago Transit Board Chairman Terry Peterson to participate in negotiations.

"I'm not afraid to discuss striking," Franklin said. "Our labor is our weapon."

Steele said swing shifts are necessary in transit, because peak hours of operation are during the morning and afternoon rush hours. He said the CTA is showing respect in negotiations and wants an "open dialogue" with the union. The transit agency requested arbitration last month.

"We have negotiated in good faith — fairly, openly and honestly," Steele said. He said the agency is looking at some practices and work rules that are "inefficient and costly."

Steele said CTA rail operators are among the highest-paid transit workers in the country and have "generous benefits." The average wage for a CTA rail operator ranges from $21.33 to $32.82 per hour.

CTA rail operators last went on strike in 1979, Franklin said.

The CTA bus driver union, ATU Local 241, said it "fully supports the positions taken by its sister Local 308 with respect to the bargaining process and its expression of frustration on behalf of the hardworking members of both locals." The union is also in negotiations for a new contract.

mwisniewski@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @marywizchicago