LaborFamily News & Views

Childcare Support for Transit Workers

ATU Local 192 members (left to right) Arsenia Legaspi, Phylistine Ford and Stephanie Plummer. ATU Local 192 members (left to right) Arsenia Legaspi, Phylistine Ford and Stephanie Plummer.

By Brenda Pernell

BEGINNINGS

Headquartered in Oakland, California, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 192 represents approximately 1,815 employees ranging from bus operators, mechanics, dispatchers, service employees, transit information clerks, para-transit operators, janitors, print shop workers and clerical workers including customer service representatives at the AC Transit serving Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

The transportation industry in the United States saw a drastic shift in the mid-70s with the hiring of women workers for jobs previously occupied by men. Following the change in the workforce, issues such as childcare came up as an important concern for workers. AC Transit workers too began to realize how difficult it was to keep reliable childcare because of the varying work hours. Finding it difficult to juggle work family life around affordable, safe and often non-compatible hours of operation, the employees formed a childcare committee in the 1980s hoping to pressure AC Transit (District) into providing on-site childcare facilities.

BUILDING SUPPORT

For the next 15 years, various AC Transit employees representing both labor and management served on the childcare committee with the hope that some day on-site childcare facilities would be created to resolve childcare issues faced by the workers.

In 1994, Christine Zook became ATU Local 192's first woman president. Ms. Zook formed a great working relationship with then AC Transit General Manager Sharon Banks. In 1997, Ms. Zook and Mrs. Banks decided to try negotiating a contract without the customary adversarial positioning, instead opting to use a relatively new interest-based bargaining method. In the same year, Claudia Hudson was elected ATU Local 192's Vice President and worked on the negotiating team. Ms. Zook also introduced Netsy Firestein, the founder and Executive Director of the Labor Project for Working Families, to Mrs. Banks. Together this group of women led ATU Local 192 and the District to include valuable family friendly language in their collective bargaining agreement through the next General Manager, Rick Fernandez.

In the meantime, ATU members continued to inquire about the childcare committee and expressed concerns that nothing would develop from the committee that had now existed for over a decade with no apparent success.

In 1999, Mrs. Banks passed away leaving Assistant General Manager Rick Fernandez at the helm. Over the next year, efforts to move toward on-site child care facilities were stalled and finally came to a halt when Mr. Fernandez expressed major concerns about liability, both with having children on the premises and having to hire staff (doing background checks) to provide care for the children.

Finally during the 2000 negotiations, with Ms. Zook leading the Union team and Mr. Fernandez leading the District team, both sides agreed to establish a Dependent Care Fund to address specific attendance and safety concerns.

BARGAINING VICTORIES

With the ratification of the 2000 collective bargaining agreement, ATU Local 192 members gained many family friendly benefits in their contract including time off (originally 8-hours now 16-hours per quarter) for verified personal appointments; reduced year in service and minimum hours requirement for eligibility under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) (making members eligible for FMLA after 6 months in service and 625 hours worked); ability for new parents to return to work part-time after the birth of a child and gradually return to full time jobs. The greatest victory came by way of the Dependent Care Fund with employer contributions of $.03 (increased in 2007 to $.05) per hour for every hour worked by ATU members. The purpose of this contribution was to assist ATU members with their childcare needs.

With this fund, the labor management committee created a Family Care Coordinator position and a Family Care Plan providing the following programs:

LESSONS LEARNED

The entire negotiation process was slow in developing and the members' needs were sometimes different than what was originally assessed. In some cases, the needs turned out to be greater or less and not always predictable. However, we found out that members who didn't need the services were very supportive of the programs for those in need and this helped move the negotiation process.

Brenda Pernell, employed by AC Transit for over 30 years is a Bus Operator and has served as the Family Care Coordinator since 2002. Prior to serving in this job, she served as the ATU liaison working with both AC Transit and ATU Local 192, serving on and monitoring 41 Contract Implementation committees including the facilitation of the Joint Labor Management Committee and chairing the Drivers’ Committee. Brenda served as a member of the child care committee from 2000, working with other members to create the Family Care Plan as well as the duties of the Family Care Coordinator. Brenda is a loyal union member and got involved during the 1980’s to be a part of the solution and not the problem.

For more information, please email BPernell@actransit.org.

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