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By Eli Wolfe

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Some VTA workers will see wage increases and a large bonus following approval of a new union contract with the public transit agency.

VTA’s board of directors voted 11-1 in favor of an agreement that establishes a 10% pay raise over the next three years for members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 265. The agreement also grants each ATU member a one-time $3,500 “appreciation bonus.” The agreement, which covers March 7, 2022 through March 3, 2025, will affect roughly 1,500 VTA workers, including bus and light rail operators.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo cast the lone dissenting vote against the agreement. He applauded the parties for negotiating in good faith and weathering a difficult year, but raised concerns about how the agreement will impact VTA’s fiscal operations in the future.

“We are facing very severe operating gaps right now,” Liccardo said, adding he’d prefer to sit down with workers and figure out how to use money strategically to help the agency generate revenue through higher ridership and other means.

VTA and the union established a tentative agreement on Dec. 22. A majority of union members voted to certify the agreement on Jan. 5. Local ATU 265 President John Courtney praised VTA’s general manager and CEO Carolyn Gonot for prioritizing the union’s request for a new contract.

“I’m happy we’re entering into a phase in this agency where we can make serious culture changes, and I think the board gets, or at least the majority gets it,” Courtney told San José Spotlight.

The agreement caps a difficult year for VTA and ATU. In May, a VTA employee killed nine workers—eight of whom were ATU members—and himself. VTA shut down the Guadalupe light rail yard for three months and restored service last September. A public fight erupted between VTA and ATU after a worker died by suicide months after the shooting, with union officials blaming the agency for failing to give workers better access to mental health care.

Allegations about toxic work issues prompted VTA to look for a consultant to evaluate the agency’s culture. This is still a pressing concern—during Thursday’s meeting, a VTA worker raised complaints about a superior in the customer service department.

“We are heartened to come to such an expedient agreement with our largest union as our workforce continues to heal from an especially arduous year that included not only a protracted pandemic, but a crippling cyberattack and the horrific shooting at our Guadalupe light rail yard,” Gonot said in a statement.

Transit advocates say the agreement is a good sign of the year to come for VTA. Monica Mallon, founder of Turnout4Transit and a columnist for San José Spotlight, said the agreement will help establish better service for riders in Santa Clara County, and allow the agency to prioritize other pressing issues.

“They can really take the time to listen to each other about what we want our future to be, instead of bickering about the contract, having riders be upset and getting slammed by the press,” Mallon told San José Spotlight.

Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

This article was originally published by The San José Spotlight.

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