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Originally published Thursday, November 21, 2013 at 8:08 PM

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Metro union wants workers to defer 2014 cost-of-living raises

About 4,200 union workers at King County Metro Transit may defer a pay raise next year, for the sake of the system’s financial well-being.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

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About 4,200 union workers at King County Metro Transit will be asked to defer next year’s cost-of-living pay increase, for the sake of the system’s financial and political well-being.

County Executive Dow Constantine and union President Paul Bachtel announced a tentative three-year agreement Thursday morning.

Constantine seeks to impress upon state lawmakers that Metro is taking all available steps to be efficient. Hearings were held Thursday in Olympia on a potential $12 billion plan for highways and ferries, funded by gas taxes, bond debt and vehicle fees.

What he wants is to have money for Metro and local roads decided early in the year — just in time to avoid having to cut service during 2014.

He and Councilmember Larry Phillips of Magnolia called on lawmakers to hold a special session by December, to offer King County some local-option taxes. Otherwise, they said they would write their own “Plan B” for a potential April ballot.

“Time is running out,” Phillips said.

Such threats are supposed to have leverage with the Legislature, because once King County voters approve their own transit and road money, many of the county’s more green or left-leaning voters would fight any state highway plan appearing in the fall.

“If you don’t link them, what happens is, once the transit crowd gets what they consider they want, the [state] road package gets torpedoed, and vice versa,” Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina and chair of the Majority Coalition Caucus, said this summer.

Meanwhile, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587 will vote on a contract calling for annual raises of 0 percent, 2 percent, then 2 percent. If new funding arrives, the missed inflation raise of 2014 would be tacked onto the third year, raising it to 3.67 percent.

The proposal comes after Boeing Machinists rejected a proposal to phase out traditional pensions in favor of 401(k) accounts, as a price to assure 777X jets would be built in Washington state.

But the transit drivers, mechanics, electricians and laborers have voted before, in November 2010, to freeze wages the first year.

Bachtel emphasized political consequences in a bulletin to members Wednesday. He said the pact contains changes that “will best support our joint interests in obtaining new funding,” and that “to that end, labor needs to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

Veteran bus drivers earn around $30 an hour, excluding overtime.

Metro bus ridership has been growing lately, to an average 412,000 weekday boardings in October, causing many buses to run packed.

Constantine said his preference is still to have the Legislature pass county roads and transit language in cooperation with the highway plan. King County voters would consider a car-tab tax of up to $150 per $10,000 vehicle value, split 60 percent for transit and 40 percent for county and city roads.

By comparison, the “Plan B” could include a flat car-tab fee of $80 per vehicle, along with a sales-tax hike of 2 cents per $10 purchase.

General Manager Kevin Desmond has said he must cut 600,000 annual bus hours, or 17 percent, without new funding — because in mid-2014 Metro will lose a temporary $20 car-tab fee, lose state aid for buses in the Highway 99 construction zone, and run out of cash reserves it spent to survive recession-related tax losses.

Sales taxes have since rebounded. That plus a deferral in worker raises would trim the loss to 400,000 to 500,000 hours, but still be devastating, Desmond said.

This summer, Senate Transportation Committee co-chair Curtis King, R-Yakima, criticized the very concept of making car drivers pay to subsidize transit. (Metro recovers about 30 percent of operations through fares, which have increased four times in five years).

But this month, he released new plans suggesting local tax options for Metro and for Community Transit in Snohomish County — a political thaw of sorts.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or On Twitter @mikelindblom

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