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Red, White & Bust: COTA strike set to continue during downtown fireworks

Thomas Bradley/ For The Lantern

After a day of striking and contract negotiations, Central Ohio Transit Authority employees struck down a tentatively approved contract, leaving the city without public buses for at least another day.

That day just happens to coincide with Red, White & BOOM!, a fireworks celebration expected to draw half a million people into Columbus.

COTA is reported to have transported more than 25,000 attendees to and from the event last year and had been planning to charter 200 extra busses to accommodate the high demand and heavy traffic that surrounds the festivities.

Union workers met at 6 p.m. Monday to discuss a tentatively approved contract that included a 7 percent wage increase over three years coupled with decreased pension benefits. The meeting lasted longer than four hours, which, according to a report from The Columbus Dispatch, resulted in the contract being struck down by a 270-238 vote.

In an official statement, COTA president and CEO W. Curtis Stitt spoke out against the contract rejection.

“I am outraged by the results of the Union vote and every taxpayer and bus rider in this community should be as well,” Stitt said. “COTA has bargained in good faith since September and the Union and its leadership have twice rejected fair and equitable contracts that mirror the Union’s own proposals.”

Andrew Jordan, president of Transport Workers Union of America, Local 208 told The Lantern Friday the union intended to get a deal made by Sunday, hoping to avoid any kind of strike.

According to reports, there was no single issue that stood in the way of the union strikers from agreeing to the contract, but Jordan said a combination of several issues upset employees including bus driver safety and health coverage specifics.

On the eve of Red, White, & BOOM!, many who planned to attend the fireworks display are left without a way of getting there.

“We will not allow the Union to hold this community hostage,” Stitt said.

Stitt also said that COTA is going to “consider all available options” for getting buses back on the streets.

The strike will be an added inconvenience to some planning to travel downtown for the festivities, including a number of Ohio State students. Full-time students taking summer classes pay a $6.75 COTA fee that allows them unlimited access to the bus system. The costs comes out to roughly 20 cents a day, and the university is unsure at this time how they will react to a prolonged strike.

University registrar Brad Myers said students might be reimbursed that cost depending on how long the protests continue.

“If the strike is a few days … is it worth trying to work through the administrative cost and things along that line to refund 60 cents?” he said. “I’m not trying to say that wouldn’t happen, couldn’t happen, I’m just saying let’s think out loud in practical considerations.”

Posts from the COTA Bus Twitter account suggested that anyone traveling to the fireworks consider carpooling, biking, calling a taxi or contact friends and family.

 

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