After a year of negotiations, employees for the largest company operating the Maryland Transit Administration’s MobilityLink paratransit vans for people with disabilities have a new — albeit temporary — contract.
Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union “overwhelmingly” ratified the new deal last week, according to John Ertl, trustee with ATU Local 1764. The contract with MV Transportation includes an increase in the employer retirement fund match, improvements to workers’ health care plans and more.
The agreement comes after more than a hundred MV employees were preparing to strike over several grievances, including low pay and health and safety concerns. The company has been dealing with bedbug problems in some vans since last year, with several drivers bringing them home. This, in turn, has helped to fuel an alarming employee turnover rate.
“MV is pleased to have reached an agreement with our union employees and to continue servicing the Baltimore area,” an MV Transportation spokesperson said in an emailed statement late Thursday.
A spokesperson for the MTA did not return a request for comment.
The one-year contract is backdated to begin this past May, meaning that some employees will be eligible for retroactive pay bumps. The deal is set to expire next April because “much more still needs to be done,” according to Ertl.
“We can implement these improvements right away and then return to the bargaining table to keep pressing for the realization of a fair agreement that adequately honors these essential workers,” Ertl said in an email.
Though starting wages for MV drivers will remain the same, the new contract includes a $2-per-hour bump in the raise that employees receive after one year. Rob Wohl, a representative from the ATU, said that the lack of a substantial raise based on years of service was significantly limiting employee retention.
“I think that MV could raise wages more than they have,” said Wohl, adding that it’s ultimately MTA’s responsibility to increase investment in the MobilityLink program so that employees can get fair and competitive wage and benefits packages.
And what about those pesky bedbugs? They are still a problem, according to Ertl. He said he wishes the MTA would work on removing the cloth-covered seats in the fleet of MobilityLink vans that the bloodsuckers seem to easily burrow into.
Wohl said that the union has worked with MV to establish new procedures to deal with new infestations as they appear. In an email, a spokesperson for MV said that the new procedures include heightened sanitation and tracking measures.
“MV is committed to continuously looking for solutions to this industry-wide issue,” the company said.
Earlier this summer, a Department of Justice investigation concluded that the MTA’s MobilityLink service was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act due to poor on-time performance and other operational issues.
Although dips in on-time performance, fueled by a driver shortage and wavering demand during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, have leveled off, MobilityLink users have long complained of lengthy waits for rides and unreasonably long ride times.
Daniel Zawodny covers transportation for The Baltimore Banner as a corps member with Report For America, a national service organization that places emerging journalists with local newsrooms that cover underreported issues.