City's meeting with transit union lasts less than 15 minutes

Cassia Laham, of Students for a Democratic Society, left, and Mary Frances Folz-Donahue, center, who is union president from the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Chapter 1579, and board member Elmore Reynolds rally for contract negotiations outside of City Hall in Gainesville Tuesday.

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 at 7:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 at 8:25 p.m.

A demonstration supporting local chapter 1579 of the Amalgamated Transit Union was scaled back after the pension negotiations meeting between the city of Gainesville and union representatives lasted less than 15 minutes Tuesday morning.

The meeting was set to run from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. so the sides could negotiate proposed changes to the pension plan for Regional Transit System employees.

ATU’s representatives asked for numbers on the expected cost savings for the city’s October 2011 proposal but left after city negotiators said they wanted to move the meeting in a different direction, said local ATU President Mary Folz-Donahue.

Fight Back Florida planned to go to the meeting at 5 p.m. with organizations like UF Students for a Democratic Society in a show of solidarity for the ATU, but fewer than 10 people came because negotiations ended so quickly.

Instead, people stood in a semicircle in front of City Hall on Tuesday evening holding signs that read, “Gators Stand with ATU” and “We are One” as Jeremiah Tattersall, a state organizer for Fight Back Florida, stood on a short ledge and spoke about the importance of supporting ATU.

“This is the kick-starter for the solidarity movement,” he said.

Tattersall said Fight Back Florida will continue to work with the ATU and called for city commissioners to set the tone for negotiations by supporting fair treatment for ATU members. In October, the city proposed cutting from 2 percent to 1.6 percent the pension program’s income multiplier, which affects how much pension money employees get, Folz-Donahue said.

The city also suggested cutting the amount of overtime that could be added to pensions to 80 hours a year. During the 2011 legislative session, the state decreased that number to 300 hours of overtime a year when it passed SB 1128.

City Manager Russ Blackburn said the city is open to further negotiations and aims to make changes to the pension plan that will keep the program fair to employees and affordable to taxpayers.

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