BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority is asking an Erie County court to end a months-long union dispute relating to employee pay during the Blizzard of ’22.
According to court documents filed by the NFTA, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1342 President Jeffery Richardson asked the transit authority in January for “extra-ordinary wage payments and paid time off desired as a result of the snowstorm.”
In an interview with News 4, Richardson said that NFTA workers deserve the extra pay for braving blizzard conditions to go to work, especially on Dec. 26, when buses still weren’t running.
“If you worked on the Sunday schedule, you had to come to work in the Blizzard, couldn’t get out,” Richardson said. “And no service was going out at all, so we had people getting trapped trying to make it into work. … We had a couple of people volunteer. They thought they were going to get the eight hours plus 12 hours, 20 hours for the day. The company only ended up giving them 12.”
The NFTA denied the request, according to the filing, arguing that none of the payments or paid time off were listed in the collective bargaining agreement, the union’s contract with the NFTA.
Richardson filed a grievance report two weeks later in which he advocated for all union workers who worked during the storm to be paid time and a half for every hour worked, plus eight hours for their shift. In addition, he argued that union members who were required to work on Dec. 27, the day NFTA resumed operations, but couldn’t make it should be paid for their shifts and have their sick and vacation time returned to them.
In response to Richardson’s formal grievance, the NFTA wrote that employees who worked Dec. 23-25, when the NFTA had ceased operations, were paid time and a half for each hour, and employees who worked Dec. 26-28 were allowed to use “available accrued leave” and wouldn’t lose their attendance bonuses for doing so. The transit authority also argued that giving employees further bonus pay would be an illegal use of public funds.
Richardson acknowledged that the blizzard pay he’s seeking for union members isn’t explicitly laid out in the collective bargaining agreement but said there was more to the story. Other documents govern the NFTA’s relationship with the union, he said, claiming that the NFTA only relies on the agreement when it’s “to their advantage.”
“They pick and choose what they want to do,” Richardson said. “Is it exactly in the CBA? No, but it’s the right thing to do. You can’t pick and choose what union members you want to pay and what the Union members you don’t want to pay.”
Sections 12-17 and 13-8 of the collective bargaining agreement indicate that in cases where the NFTA cancels service due to weather conditions, full-time employees will be paid “at their straight-time hourly rates for the hours when their work is so cancelled or curtailed.”
Earlier this month, Richardson demanded that the NFTA arbitrate the dispute with the union. The NFTA is now asking the Erie County Supreme Court to stop the arbitration process from going forward, arguing that the union’s demands have no basis in the collective bargaining agreement.
This dispute is the latest in a string of contentious arbitrations, Richardson said. In recent months, the union has arbitrated with the NFTA over everything from vending machine proceeds to tool allowances from 2021 that he said the NFTA has yet to pay its mechanics.
“We’re having problems, and they arbitrate it or they take us to court for everything,” Richardson said.
ATU Local 1342 has yet to file an official response in court, but Richardson said the union will continue to pursue arbitration with the NFTA.