BEND, Ore. - (Update: Drivers, supporters attend COIC meeting; Paratransit issues statement)
More than a dozen people gathered outside the Hawthorne Bus Station in Bend Wednesday to rally for livable wages for Paratransit workers.
Paratransit is a bus company based out of Washington state that contracts with local transit agencies like Cascades East Transit in Central Oregon.
Paratransit workers have been without a contract for eight months. They gathered Wednesday calling for a pay raise.
Drivers are currently paid $14 an hour, which the protesters said is not considered a livable wage in Bend.
Drivers like Carolynne Arickson say making ends meet isn't easy.
"It's paycheck to paycheck every month. You know, when a paycheck goes to rent and the next one has to go to bills," Arickson said.
"We have a lot of drivers here that are still on food stamps or the Oregon Health Plan," she added. "When you're working a full-time job and even starting the wage is at $14 an hour and you're still on food stamps, that's sad."
Leaders of the Amalagamated Transit Union Division 757 were at the rally, leading the charge for change.
The group's president, Shirley Block, said Paratransit offered workers a 5-cent per hour raise.
"We are asking for a $5 an hour raise for these people because right now they can't even bring operators in-house," Block said. "School bus drivers start at $16 an hour. They want these guys to start off at $14.05 an hour and no medical benefits."
ATU Vice President Jonathan Hunt said not only are workers not receiving livable wages, but they also aren't given fair breaks or safe buses to drive.
"These folks are asked to pay $3,500 to $6,500 in (annual) deductibles before anything is covered," he said. "These people are making 14 and 16 bucks an hour. That's not a living wage, and it's not safe."
Drivers and workers' rights activists also attended a meeting Wednesday in Redmond of the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council, which operates CET, to make their argument for higher wages.
The idea of a strike has been discussed by union members, but they see it as a last resort. However, they say they are willing to do whatever it takes to make their voices heard.
"We don't want to go on a strike," Hunt said. "It's the last thing we want to do. But for folks to think that people will sit out here with 14 bucks an hour and no health insurance -- I don't think anybody would do it, and these folks are tired of it."
NewsChannel 21 received a news release later Thursday from Paratransit. Here it is, in full:
Bend, Oregon 09/06/18 – Representatives from Paratransit Services met August 28, 2018 with representatives from ATU 757and a Federal mediator in an effort to conclude labor contract negotiations and get a signed contract.
The negotiations have focused on wages and working conditions for Paratransit Services’ employees whom are contracted to operate the Bend Area Transit services for COIC.
“The union’s most recent demand amounts to an increase in transportation costs of over $2 million over four years,” said Christie Scheffer, EVP/COO for Paratransit Services.
Paratransit Services worked with the assistance of a federal mediator in an effort to reach a reasonable agreement.
“Over the last four years, our employees have been provided a comprehensive benefits package, and wages were increased by approximately 16.15%,” Scheffer said.
Paratransit Services continues to be committed to its employees and has presented a proposal that seeks to sustain current staffing levels and working conditions, while increasing their wages.
“Paratransit Services remains committed to providing safe, efficient, rider-friendly transportation services for the citizens of Bend,” said Scheffer. “We are committed to the wellbeing of our employees and the opportunity to continue to provide the stability of a comprehensive wage and benefit package.”
“We can assure our customers that we are committed to our employees and to making sure that transportation services continue,” she added.
Paratransit Services is a community-based non-profit organization which has been meeting the transportation needs of Bend, OR since 2003. Paratransit Services provides Fixed Route and Americans with Disabilities (ADA) transportation services, as well as Medicaid Brokerage services, in Oregon, Washington and California.