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Charlottesville, VA, Transit Workers Mobilize to Join ATU and Win a Strong First Contract

In 2021 after Virginia passed a law allowing municipal and county workers to unionize, big cities moved forward with new provisions for union rights, but small cities did nothing. In Charlottesville, VA, the workers at Charlottesville Area Transit (CAT) wanted a voice on the job. After a supermajority of workers signed union cards to join our Local 1220-Richmond, VA, the CAT workers flooded City Council with testimony demanding City Council grant them union rights. Our Union fought hard to improve their first draft, which would have been the worst ordinance in the state. After securing the right to unionize, CAT employees ultimately voted 59-7 to join our Local 1220.


Driver Shortage

As our Local set out to bargain with the City, a contract survey revealed how dire the circumstances were at CAT. 76% of CAT employees could not pay their bills if they weren’t able to get overtime hours. 57% had to work a second or even third job to get by, and 73% of the workers could not even afford to live in the City where they drive people for a living. Predictably, these dire economic conditions meant a severe driver shortage. With a projected surplus of $7 million this year for the City budget, our CAT members hammered home the point that they were long overdue for fair wages.

Negotiations were tough, as the City hired a $600/hour DC law firm to lead its side of the table. Their lawyer fought our bargaining committee on every single issue. Making matters worse, with bargaining beginning in October, our Local had just four months to bargain an entire contract so that it could be funded in the upcoming City budget.

Our Local escalated its campaign for a fair contract with an outsized presence at January’s City Council meeting. During the public comment session, our members were joined by environmentalists, faith community activists, teachers, and political activists in support of a strong contract for our members. Our Local’s presence at that meeting was so commanding that at one moment during the public comment session, the mayor accidentally called up the “next driver” instead of the “next speaker.”


Giant Leap Forward

The final deal Local 1220 reached was a giant leap forward. Their first contract adds approximately $3 million in new money to our members’ pockets over the three-year deal, which amounts to $30,000 per member. Prior to joining our Union, there was no pay scale at CAT. One employee with over 30 years of service made $28 an hour, while employees with even 10-20 years of service languished at the new hire rate of $22.26 an hour. A majority of CAT Bus Operators, including many making the new hire rate, will jump straight to $31.00 per hour on January 1, 2025. By the end of the contract the Bus Operators end up on a 6-year progression with a top rate of $32.36 an hour.

Aside from the money, the settlement also provides very strong contract language. The Local won protection from AI surveillance technology, established fair discipline and grievance procedures, protected bargaining unit work, improved working conditions for the beleaguered school bus division, and other improvements.

Additionally, CAT workers won paid breaks for the first time. They secured a tool allowance of $1,250 and boot allowance of $500 for maintenance workers. The deal also guarantees 40 hours of pay per week for full time employees. The Local codified all of the current City benefits like the pension into the contract and also preserved for the time being full-time benefits for part-time school bus employees that were previously slated to disappear on June 30.

“I am proud to call our Local 1220 CAT members my brothers and sisters,” said International President John Costa. “The solidarity, resilience, and strength they displayed throughout their campaign resulted in the strong first contract they deserve.”

Not surprisingly the Local members overwhelmingly ratified their hard-fought strong first contract.