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COTA contract talks at impasse

For the first time since contract talks began several months ago between the Central Ohio Transit Authority and the Transport Workers Union,officials have talked about a possible work stoppage. Negotiators for COTA management and the union have turned to a third party for help in the contract dispute but that's no guarantee the two sides will find common ground.

Transport Workers Union Local 208 President, James Theotis, is discouraged the two sides so far have failed to reach agreement. "Right now you might as well say we're at an impasse." Theotis says.

Actually, the union and COTA management are each presenting their case to a state-appointed fact-finder. But, the head of the Transit Authority, William Lhota, declined to discuss specific sticking points in the talks.

Lhota says it might be May before the fact-finder issues his report. T-W-U President Theotis says the talks stalled when COTA insisted on concessions in any new agreeement. Theotis says the Authority wanted givebacks in several areas.

The financial stakes are high for both sides. The union wants to preserve its past contract gains while COTA seeks to improve its financial statement. President Lhota says the Authority is operating at a deficit for the third consecutive year even though county sales tax revenue has increased by about two percent per year during that time. "Unfortunately, while the sales tax has been up, our state support's down 56%, our federal support's down 6%," says Lhota

Moreover, ridership has remained steady or flat. Lhota says the bus agency takes in about 15-million fares annually. Lhota says after the fact-finder makes his report each side will either accept or reject the findings.

Lhota says the outcome of the contract dispute with the T-W-U has no bearing on proposed light rail plans. He says COTA is still committed to an Environmental Impact Statement for the project along the so-called North Corridor between downtown and the Crosswoods area in Worthington.