Britt Dunams, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 732, speaks about contract negotiations at a May 11 meeting of the MARTA Board of Directors.

After dragging on for nearly a year, contract negotiations between MARTA and its labor union are heating up with mutual accusations of delays and misinformation, and talk of workers staging an “action.”

Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 732 members are nearly five months past the expiration of a previous contract and apparently remain far apart from MARTA on pay rates, which they claim are lower than national and regional transit agencies. An underlying issue is actual and potential outsourcing and the ability to attract operators as MARTA plans major system expansions. 

The contract negotiation is being watched closely by labor advocates. ATU 732 President Britt Dunams joined other workers in discussing the negotiation at a May 11 MARTA Board of Directors meeting where labor officials and liaisons from regional organizations and the Atlanta Mayor’s Office were in attendance.

“They actually used to call us frontline heroes and they want to give us zeroes across the board,” Dunams told SaportaReport of the first post-pandemic contract negotiations. He said he spoke at the MARTA board meeting “because I’m trying to hold my members off… but if the company doesn’t recognize the strength of their employees, the employees might make an action.” Negotiations on the previous contract in 2019 included a sick-out by bus drivers.

MARTA says it “has been eager to bargain in good faith” and blamed the union for dragging out talks that began May 31, 2022.

“We remain ready to settle this contract, but respect ATU’s insistence on a protracted process,” said MARTA spokesperson Stephany Fisher. “We must draw the line, however, on their desire to now negotiate in the media.”

Dunams says MARTA is the one dragging out negotiations, in part through the hiring of the “union-busting” law firm Jackson Lewis to join in the talks. The firm is widely criticized in the labor movement for representing firms and institutions that are attempting to stave off unionization and for a history of allegations of hardball tactics, though many of those date back more than 20 years. Among the MARTA tactics now, Dunams said, is a request for a five-year rather than three-year contract that would make the next negotiations coincide with a union leadership election.

MARTA says Jackson Lewis also represented the transit agency in the 2019 contract negotiations, “in which MARTA gave employees the biggest raises they’d seen in more than a decade.” The union is protected from “union-busting” by federal laws, MARTA says. 

MARTA says it is “a proud union employer” that continues to offer fully funded pensions. However, it also defends outsourcing of jobs. “ATU’s overall concern about outsourcing contracts – which we regularly do to support cleaning in the stations – is an attempt to increase union job headcount at the expense of cleanliness, efficiency and improved customer experience,” said Fisher.

The latest contract that expired on Dec. 31 was a one-year extension, negotiated as a pandemic emergency move under former General Manager and CEO Jeff Parker, who died in early 2022. Dunams praises Parker’s intent to “give [workers] a nice contract” in the next negotiations but says MARTA now says it’s a “burden” to give a substantial raise.

Exactly what is being sought is itself a matter of dispute and neither side gave specific numbers. Dunams says he has proposed raises in the range of 13 percent and that MARTA’s have been as low as 1 percent to 2 percent. He also claimed that current General Manager and CEO Collie Greenwood has incorrectly told employees in town hall meetings that MARTA is working on a cost of living pay increase, when the negotiating team has said no, creating a “conflict of stories.”

But MARTA says its “offers have all been substantially higher than have ever been negotiated,” including an 11 percent raise approved in the previous contract.

The union says MARTA’s pay rates are far lower than comparable transit agencies nationwide and now even lower than some regional partners like Cobb and Gwinnett counties, where Dunams says he recently negotiated new contracts. “MARTA used to be the trendsetter” on pay, he said. But now, he said, Gwinnett topped it with a 15.5 percent initial raise and Cobb is providing raises in two of three years of the contract, with a top rate of $33.50 an hour. SaportaReport could not immediately confirm those details with the counties.

One MARTA worker who spoke at the board meeting says he is paid the current top rate and “it’s not enough to live in Atlanta anymore.” Dunams says at least a couple of MARTA drivers and some support staff members are homeless, which the transit agency did not deny, saying it provides “resources as available” to workers struggling with housing.

MARTA defended its current pay as substantial. “The average hourly wage of our operators is $22.83 per hour,” said Fisher. Citing a state oversight committee’s Fiscal Year 2022 report, she said that “more than 83 percent of our unionized employees earn more than $50,000 annually. More than 45 percent earn $60,000 and above.”

Dunams says that regional systems with higher pay rates could make it tougher for MARTA to fill operator positions as it heads into its “More MARTA” transit line expansion. The agency already has acknowledged bus operator hiring struggles, and Dunams says it is taking on and training drivers who do not yet have a commercial driver’s license.

Outsourcing is a long-term concern for the union, since the 2014 privatization of the Mobility program for riders with disabilities. The recent pilot program of Reach, an on-demand shuttle service using Mobility vehicles, raised similar concerns that MARTA will “have Uber and Lyft come in and do our jobs,” said Dunams. He said he also suspects the abrupt suspension in April of Southwest Atlanta’s Route 183 bus service, attributed to road safety concerns, was really about reducing operation costs. 

“Mr. Dunams is wrong about Route 183,” said Fisher. “The decision on that route was driven by identified safety hazards. ATU has been on the record opposing Reach from the outset because we used our Mobility contractor to provide the service. The fight over outsourcing Mobility drivers was fought and won by MARTA in 2014. There is no need to re-litigate this issue.”

According to Dunams, the MARTA negotiating team includes LaShanda Dawkins, the assistant general manager for labor and employee relations; Interim Chief Financial Officer Kevin Hurley; Chief Operating Officer George Wright; Chief of Staff Melissa Mullinax; and William R. Moseley, a Jackson Lewis attorney who formerly served as chair of MARTA’s board.

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  1. SMarta (Slave Masters Are Running This Authority). Marta rail & bus operators need to walk out, sick out, strike, or whatever you want to call it. HQ pocket all the funds in undeserved bonuses while the front line workers are forced to work overtime just to purchase gas to get to work. Do an audit, where has the money gone?

  2. They slave their drivers. No real lunch break forced overtime. Atlanta is no longer a cheap place to live and Marta needs to adjust to cost of living by giving raises to the people who are assaulted daily and deal with abuse from customers and management. They can’t keep drivers because they treat them like crap.

  3. Cobblinc is Marta’s twin sister…… Cobblinc as a whole is a good job, but incompetent, corrupt management is what makes the company as a whole hazardous to work for. Plus the fleet of buses Cobblinc has, are dangerous to drive. Please run the other way and run as fast as you can from Marta, Cobblinc and Gwinnett county!!!!

  4. Marta says the wages they pay are sufficient but how when there “elite” jobs only bring home 1200.00 a pay period. I know children just started working bring home twice that every two weeks. If you want to be able to afford living it’s a must you work overtime at Marta or else the struggle is really real… especially for a single parent!!!!

  5. So when are we going on strike so that we can be heard. No one is listening and the union is doing everything possible. Come on and take a stand!! If not for you then do it for the company. MARTA would not be able to function without us. We are the face of the company. We are the ones getting the customers where they need to go. Let them drive the buses or take to these customers, they would not survive a day dealing with these customers.

  6. I have child support and car insurance and rent I can’t make a living on my own . Sadly I have to move back in with my parents .Im just been holding on to Marta but this will be my last year I can’t play anymore games with Marta. I just want peace and. Get what I worked hard for all these years for Marta

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