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CATS bus operators vote to approve new contract, strike averted

A source confirmed to WCNC Charlotte the vote was 204-11 in favor of a new contract.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Bus operators with the Charlotte-Area Transit System (CATS) voted in the majority to approve a new contract Saturday evening.

A pair of sources confirmed with WCNC Charlotte that operators within the local SMART Union chapter voted 204-11 in favor of the contract. The approval of this contract comes less than a week after SMART Union and CATS managing company RATP Dev came to a tentative agreement to avoid a potential strike.

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One source said pay increases of up to $3 per hour are included, along with improved health insurance benefits and coverage options. Night differential pay, double-time pay for holidays, and changes to the bidding of work process are also part of the contract.

According to a post on the SMART union’s website, the wage increases are retroactive to July first of last year. The workers also get Juneteenth added as a holiday.

The union's Transportation Division Bus Department Vice President Calvin Studivant was quoted saying “The negotiations took more than nine months to complete, but the committee stayed focused on the task at hand and they delivered.”

Charlotte City Council Member-at-Large, Dimple Ajmera says that the vote is a step in the right direction.

"This is a major milestone," Ajmera said. "I appreciate the time and effort that's been put into this by both the union and RATP DEV to reach an agreement so that we can provide reliable bus service to our community."

Riders who depend on the bus say they are relieved to learn a strike is off the table.

"If we don’t have transportation, half the people won’t get to work," said Stephanie Morrison, a Charlotte bus rider.

"The transportation system really helps me get back and forth to work. It gets families back and forth to doctor visits, a lot of things," said Jeremy Benson, a bus rider. "They are a very vital part of this community… I'm just glad they finally came to a reasonable agreement for them."

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CATS buses and rail lines provide about 6.5 million rides each year. A strike would have had significant impacts on the Charlotteans who rely on public transit for transportation.

Prior to Saturday's agreement, previous months saw failed negotiations between RATP Dev and union members. Operators in the union had previously voted in early January to consider a possible strike prior to the tentative agreement made at the end of the month.

In response, CATS provided the following statement:

"This past Saturday, SMART Union (Union #1715) members voted on a collective bargaining agreement that was reached between SMART Union and RATPDev. The contract passed with a margin of 20 to 1.

 North Carolina law does not allow CATS/City of Charlotte to be a party in any collective bargaining agreements. RATPDev, the contract management company for CATS, manages the collective bargaining and oversees the bus operators and bus mechanics. CATS has encouraged both parties to reach a mutually beneficial agreement throughout this process and is happy to see that both parties have reached an agreement.

 'I am very thankful for the hard work that has gone into reaching this agreement," said Brent Cagle, Interim CEO of CATS. "This agreement aligns with our values at the City of Charlotte. It focuses on the employee, which is our most valuable asset. This new contract calls for significant wage increases, making our operator positions among the top paid on the east coast. We will continue to work with RATPDev and SMART Union bus operators, so we can continue to provide essential mobility solutions that connect communities to opportunity, places and each other.'

CATS does not hold the official contract agreement between RATPDev and SMART Union and cannot release it. Releasable information must come from RATPDev or SMART Union."

Contact Jesse Pierre at jpierrepet@wcnc.com or follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Flashpoint is a weekly in-depth look at politics in Charlotte, North Carolina, South Carolina, and beyond with host Ben Thompson. Listen to the podcast weekly.
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