Judge considering UTA-union case

A judge is considering whether the case of broken-down contract negotiations between the Utah Transit Authority and a union representing 1,300 of its workers is a matter for state courts or arbitration.

On Friday, attorneys for the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 382, and UTA argued before 3rd District Court Judge L.A. Dever aspects of state law, the Urban Mass Transit Act of 1964 and decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, which has jurisdiction over federal law in Utah.

The union hopes Dever will agree that the law and legal precedence requires the case be sent to arbitration. Arbitration is cheaper and faster than the courts, said Joe Hatch, an attorney for Local 382, and if UTA receives federal money, it needs to follow federal provisions requiring arbitration for contract disputes.

The case involves technicalities in labor law and practice and few state judges in Utah, a right-to-work state, have experience in such cases and it could take a while for a judge to become familiar with labor jurisprudence, Hatch said. The arbitrator approved by UTA and the union has labor experience.

UTA hopes Dever will decide the case is for state courts, since federal law requires that cases in states that have no state labor relations board be heard in state courts, said UTA attorney Scott Hagen.

UTA prefers a state judge because they're more experienced with aspects of state law that Hagen believes will ultimately decide the case.

Over the long term, it's the union's desire to have an arbitrator agree that UTA acted in bad faith in contract negotiations. That could mean that working conditions revert to the former three-year contract that expired in December.

Negotiations for the 2010-2011 contract began in the fall and ended in December, when UTA trustees voted to implement the contract that UTA wanted for the mechanics and bus and train drivers. Ninety-nine percent of union members voted against the contract.

The contract provided no pay raise for 2010, and a potential pay raise the following year only if UTA received certain tax revenues. UTA also wants to reduce turnaround times for buses and train routes and to hire part-timers, who don't receive benefits, to drive trains.

Over the long term, UTA hopes the case will remain in state court and the judge will declare an impasse. Dever has to write an opinion by July 27, the date of the first scheduled arbitration hearing.

Published: Friday, July 9, 2010 8:20 p.m. MDT


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