ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority Board of Directors unanimously approved a three-year contract with Florida Public Service Union Aug. 18.
The SEIU represents more than 490 frontline workers, including bus operators, customer service representatives and maintenance workers.
James Bradford, chief operating officer, said negotiations took about four months with union members ratifying the contract with 74% approval on Aug. 4. Approval by the PSTA Board was the final step before the new contract goes into effect on Oct. 1. It runs through Sept. 30, 2024.
Highlights of the contract include increasing the minimum starting wage for all employees to $15 and raising the minimum starting wage for bus operators to $16 with a boost to $16.50 after six months on the job. Bus technicians starting wage would be $18.50 an hour.
Bus operators that qualify for top-rate pay will receive a 3.25% pay raise each year for three years with 3% increases going to top-rate customer service representatives and all maintenance classifications.
Other employees received an increase of $1 an hour for bus operators and $1.30 for customer service representatives. In addition, maintenance workers have the ability to boost their pay by 25-cents an hour for every certificate they receive up to eight certifications.
Thanks to the step progression process, top-rate bus operators could reach a wage of $27.55 within 4.5 years of employment.
Bradford said providing livable wages within PSTA’s budget was an important part of the negotiations process with the main focus on fiscal responsibility.
He said both sides had started negotiations with “hopes and dreams” but in the end had made a number of compromises during nine sessions of meetings with 170 proposals.
The new wages makes PSTA more competitive in the market and better able to recruit and retain employees during a time when there is a bus operator shortage nationwide, Bradford said. He said with the new contract, PSTA would be in the top five for wages among the 31 transportation agencies in the state.
Other employee benefits made possible with the new contract include flexible vacation and sick time. Bradford said employees were expected to take vacation a week at a time, but now would be able to take a single personal day if needed or any other combination of days. More sick time can be converted for use as personal time. In addition, employees can “cash out” unused sick time that has accumulated over their employment.
Rules have changed in regard to medical disqualifications, funeral leave, direct deposit requirements, leave of absence, anti-harassment policies, drug policies, and mandatory use of personal protective equipment.
Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at email@example.com.