DCTA bus

Students get on and off a bus near the intersection of North Texas Boulevard and West Highland Street. 

The Denton County Transportation Authority could launch its “year of change” in a big way when the full board of directors meets Thursday afternoon.

In addition to electing a new slate of officers, the board could take an unusual step: exercising an option to end its contract with First Transit Management of Denton County. The proposal was considered and endorsed by the board’s finance and program services committees last week.

The company is a subsidiary of First Transit, a for-profit that provides drivers to public transportation agencies around the country. DCTA has contracted with First Transit for bus and train drivers almost since the agency launched 16 years ago. Although the two entities have a multi-year agreement, the contract also contains an option for either side to exit the agreement once they give sufficient notice.

If the change goes through, many frontline workers — customer service clerks, train operators and bus drivers — would become employees of DCTA. DCTA president Raymond Suarez has said the move could help improve customer service.

That change likely means that the drivers would no longer be represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union. Instead, their wages and benefits would be negotiated through “meet and confer,” the same type of civil service agreement that police and firefighters have in Texas cities. Also, the drivers would no longer be able to strike for better working conditions.

Contract negotiations between the union and First Transit broke down last spring. Drivers stepped back from a strike vote last summer after reports that representatives of First Transit tried to bypass the union and talk directly to the drivers.

The union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board and talks eventually got back on track. The two sides signed a new, three-year deal in October.

DCTA bus driver Jim Owen said he recently retired from the union executive committee and was replaced by fellow driver Paula Richardson.

DCTA board meetings are videotaped, but not broadcast online. More information about the upcoming board agenda, as well as archived video and records of past meetings, can be found at https://bit.ly/2W5vx5I.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.

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