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TARC union workers vote to authorize strike

100722_TARC Headquarters_by Jacob Munoz
TARC employees had gathered at the agency's headquarters on Friday afternoon expecting to take part in a vehicle protest.

Union members working at Transit Authority of River City (TARC) voted Thursday night to authorize a strike.

ATU Local 1447, which represents the city’s bus transit employees, said 95% of TARC workers voted to authorize the strike, according to a news release from union leadership.

The vote to authorize a strike comes after weeks of back and forth between union members and the system’s leadership. In September, 97% of union members voted to reject TARC’s most recent contract offer.

“Wages are so low that employees are working 60-70 hours a week to pay their bills, and TARC cannot retain or recruit qualified workers,” Local 1447 president Lillian Brents said in the release.

In addition to higher wages, TARC workers are asking for better safety measures and improved service.

“All we are asking of TARC is to show us the respect we’ve earned. That means sit down with us and negotiate a fair contract, create a safe workplace, and improve service,” Brents said in a release. “Instead, they have wasted time dragging out talks, making easy-to-disprove claims, and throwing down ultimatums.”

Earlier this month, workers planned to hold a protest outside of TARC’s headquarters due to the ongoing negotiation issues.

This demonstration was canceled when Carla Dearing, TARC’s newest acting board chair, arrived at the headquarters to speak with workers about their concerns. Dearing said she would work to make changes and promised to join employees in a solidarity drive.

“This group organized this action because they wanted to be heard, and I came here to listen. I learned a lot. There are a lot of important issues, and it’s necessary right now to start to achieve what [workers are] talking about,” Dearing said at the time.

The vote to authorize a strike doesn’t mean one will take place, but it could happen.

“We’re not in a hurry to shut it down, but we are in a hurry to get the respect we’re owed,” Brents said in a release. “If TARC won’t listen, they give us no choice but to take action.”

TARC did not respond to requests for comment from WFPL News on Friday. Ahead of the vote, TARC spokesperson Jenny Recktenwald issued a release about the transit service plans in case of a strike.

“If TARC experiences a significant shortage of drivers, TARC is prepared to operate on a Sunday schedule, deploy trained supervisors with a valid commercial driver’s license (CDL) to operate fixed route buses,” Recktenwald said in the release.

Additionally, TARC plans to have people without CDLs drive 12-passenger vans to prevent service gaps.

If a strike does take place, it would be in violation of Kentucky law which prevents public workers from striking. Those participating in the strike could face fines from the state’s Labor Cabinet and possible termination.

Recktenwald said in the TARC release “union employees can continue to work through a strike. Their wages and benefits will not be affected.”

TARC is set to continue negotiations with the union in November.

Breya Jones is the Breaking News Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.