David Holloway was driving the dial-a-ride bus in Aspen one afternoon in late June. He’s driven for RFTA for four-and-a-half years, but isn’t a union member. He admitted he has benefitted from the union, but thinks he could have gotten at least some of it on his own.
“The door’s always open to higher management. I’ve never had a door slammed in my face,” he said.
Other drivers agree.
“You know, RFTA’s never done anything wrong for me to think I need help,” said one driver, waiting at Rubey Park, who didn’t want to be identified.
“I’ve been there and done that with unions before,” said John Hicks, a driver also at Rubey Park.
Regardless of RFTA drivers’ opinions about the union, it still works on behalf of all them.
“It’s easy to object to the union when you’re getting the benefits for free,” said Jeff Zax, professor economics at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Zax explained Colorado is a “modified right-to-work” state.
“If there’s a union, it has to bargain for you, but you don’t have to pay for it,” he explained. In other words, workers have less incentive to join the union and pay dues.
RFTA drivers in the union pay one hour of work per paycheck. This funds the lawyers who negotiate contracts. If you’re not in the union, you can’t vote during negotiations, but whatever new benefits they secure, you get as well, and for free.
Zax said right-to-work laws are effective at checking--or corroding--union power.
“We have shown that where workers don’t have to pay for union services, there are fewer unions,” he said.
In the Roaring Fork Valley, both RFTA’s union and management said they’re happy with the recent negotiations.
“We gave RFTA our goals. They gave us our limits. We had some vigorous conversations, to say the least,” said Ed Cortez, the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union local 1774 for Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley.
He thinks the interests of the union and management are aligned a lot of the time. Dan Blankenship, RFTA’s CEO, agreed.
“In some ways, having a union has made management’s life a little easier,” Blankenship said.
The union is made up of drivers, first of all, so they know what drivers want. Concerns and complaints are filtered through the union.
“By the time they get to us, there’s usually some consensus as to what the union would like to see happen,” Blakenship said.
Chris Anderson has driven for RFTA for several years. He said he loves the job and is a proud union member.
“They’re always striving for more safety, job security and, of course, money, cost of living increases,” he said.
Anderson is a union member because he believes in its power to get him more money and better benefits.
“I know what I want, and I’m willing to pay for that,” he said.
Even if it benefits someone else, who’s not paying, that doesn’t bother him too much.
“I just kinda wish they would also get on board and pay for what they’re receiving,” he said with a laugh.
Without laws requiring people to do so, RFTA’s union will likely continue to rely on a few to represent the many.