The union representing Chicago Transit Authority workers has been cleared by state appeals panel for another pass at pressing claims the CTA’s handling of the rollout of the Ventra fare payment system violated the terms of their labor deal.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241 had brought a labor complaint to the Illinois Labor Relations Board in 2013 after the CTA implemented Ventra, its open fare payment collection system, saying CTA eliminated union positions and subcontracted what had been union jobs to a private company.

The ILRB dismissed the subcontracting complaint as untimely, saying it wasn’t filed within six months of the union’s receipt of CTA’s request for proposals for Ventra. The ILRB then dismissed the remainder because it determined the elimination of union positions wasn’t a mandatory bargaining subject.

The union appealed those rulings to the First District Appellate Court, which issued its opinion March 27. Justice Mary L. Mikva wrote the opinion; Justices Maureen E. Connors and Sheldon A. Harris concurred.

According to court documents, the dispute arose while the CTA and union were under a tentative deal for a successor collective bargaining agreement set to run from Jan. 1, 2012, through Dec. 31, 2015.

News of CTA’s intention to develop a Ventra-style system surfaced on local media in 2009. On Sept. 28, 2010, CTA posted a press release to its website announcing the RFP issuance, and the next day, CTA’s Vice President of Human Relations Robert Gierut mailed a copy to Union President Darrell Jefferson.

The Regional Transportation Authority Act was amended in July 2011, requiring CTA to develop a regional fare payment system by Jan. 1, 2015, and in November 2011, the Chicago Transit Board enacted an ordinance identifying Cubic Transportation Systems Chicago, Inc., as the contractor, in a 12-year, $454 million arrangement. Suburban buse service Pace later joined the program, and the entities unveiled Ventra in September 2012, slated to begin rollout in summer 2013 with full implementation in 2014.

On Sept. 4, 2013, the CTA told the union it would eliminate eight job classifications encompassing 24 union jobs: cashier, revenue collector, fare media operations clerk, student riding pass representative, treasury clerk, money handler II, money handler IV and vault service clerk. A week later, the CTA officially eliminated the positions. The workers remained employed, but said they were subject to lower pay, changes in work location and schedule and loss of seniority rights. The union filed the unfair labor practice claim on Sept. 18, 2013, a process culminating in the ILRB’s final decision on March 11, 2016.

Mikva wrote the issue of timing of the union’s claim boils down to whether the RFP notice constituted an “unambiguous” announcement the union jobs would be eliminated, ultimately finding the RFP mailing, which included a cover letter indicating only what was enclosed, to be insufficient notice.

“We find significant the CTA’s choice to say absolutely nothing in the cover letter about its ultimate intention, when it could have used that letter to explicitly announce its decision to subcontract bargaining unit work,” Mikva wrote. “Such an announcement would have been the kind of ‘unambiguous’ and explicit notice that is, in our view, required to trigger the Union’s obligation to file a charge.”

Mikva further wrote, neither the ILRB nor CTA sufficiently addressed the union’s argument regarding whether the position eliminations were subject to bargaining — instead raising only the timely filing objection — and remanded that portion of the complaint back to the ILRB for consideration.

The justices agreed with the union and the administrative law judge that the CTA fundamentally changed operations, and they said they believed this finding led them to conclude the ALJ had erred in determining the CTA “was exercising inherent managerial authority when it eliminated the 24 positions as part of bringing in Ventra.”

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