SEAVIEW — Pacific Transit and its drivers have been without a contract since the end of December. Neither side is divulging details. But negotiations are happening in a background of strong emotions and some distrust between labor and management.
Amalgamated Transit Union affiliate head David Claus-Sharwark expressed frustration with the status of negotiations. “There are a number of sticking points, but we hope to start buttoning them up soon.”
Transit manager Richard Evans said little about the standoff. “We’ve been negotiating; there’s give-and-take.”
For many drivers, the labor-management conflict has become personal in a way that goes well beyond any particular contract provisions. At the July 11 Pacific Transit board meeting, driver Bruce Weilepp read a Vote of No Confidence in Evans that was signed by eight drivers. (Pacific Transit has 16 drivers, including two in training). The document expressed dissatisfaction over disciplinary policy and paid vacation availability, a possible indication of some of what the contract dispute is about.
But the document did not directly mention the contract negotiations. Instead, its rhetoric made clear the signatories’ dislike of Evans. They accused him of viewing employees as the enemy, and implicitly urged the board to remove him (“only you can fix the problem.”) In addition, Weilepp claimed that additional drivers failed to sign out of fear of retaliation.
Evans and the board had no visible reaction as Weilepp delivered an impassioned reading of the denunciation. Weilepp handed copies to board members, and they moved on with the meeting, saying the board would read and consider the document as it does all public comments.
The no-confidence statement was not backed by the union, although it was drafted with Claus-Sharwark present. Weilepp said he and other drivers had been considering such a statement for “a year or two,” but that he neither asked for nor received union backing for his stance.
Weilepp’s document acknowledged that discipline had been lax prior to Evans’ arrival; with that, Evans agreed.
“There was very little discipline,” he said. “I felt that some policies were not followed. Some followed the rules, and some didn’t. It’s difficult having one of the biggest service areas in the state … I just hold people accountable to what’s in the contract.”
Claus-Sharwark made clear that the Vote of No Confidence was not a union stance. But he also portrayed it as a statement that spoke for members generally, not as the work of a rogue dissident. And like the signatories, although in milder form, he portrayed Evans as anti-labor.
“The vote of no confidence, I was in the room when it was drafted, but it was just from membership. Members are frustrated, maybe rightly so. But we as a union continue to try to work with Richard Evans in all aspects. We are hopeful that Richard Evans will come to see that union labor has worth and is worth working with, and right now I don’t know that he has that vision.”
Evans strongly disagreed with this characterization.
“That’s not true. Just recently, I had labor-management meetings with [Claus-Sharwark]. I respect the union; I respect its membership. I think they have a place, and there is a place for organized labor at Pacific Transit.”
Evans was still more adamant in objecting to his portrayal in Weilepp’s document, which accused Evans of viewing employees as the enemy.
“I categorically deny that.” Evans pointed to the vagueness of Weilepp’s evidence for the accusation, which refers to a purported conversation about ancient Chinese tactician Sun Tzu: “Mr. Evans suggested that Sun Tsu’s [sic] ‘The Art of War’ was his guide to management.”
“I don’t even know what that’s about,” Evans said. “I mean, I know who Sun Tzu is.” Evans noted that Weilepp did not provide direct quotes. “You’ll notice it says ‘he suggested.’”
Evans emphasized his continued working relationship with the union.
“There is a bit of dissension [among members], but the union president and I have a pretty good working relationship,” he said.
The Washington Department of Labor and Industries fined Pacific Transit last year over violations that included a lack of eye wash in vehicles. Evans said they came back for re-inspection in recent months and he has so far heard nothing to indicate they found any problems this time.
The Weilepp document stated that employees went to state regulators, and accused Evans of blaming workers for the resulting fines. Evans said he “absolutely” does not blame workers for the fines.
Pacific Transit operates routes within and between major south and north county population centers, connecting with Astoria and Aberdeen, primarily via U.S. Highway 101 and State Route 103. Its board consists of the mayors of Long Beach, Ilwaco, Raymond and South Bend, the three Pacific County commissioners, and Claus-Sharwark.