- Associated Press - Friday, February 19, 2016

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A lawsuit filed by a union over the hiring of some workers for Kansas City’s new streetcar line could delay the project’s scheduled spring opening.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1287 is asking a Jackson County circuit judge to issue an injunction halting work on the streetcar project until ongoing arbitration is resolved, The Kansas City Star reported (https://bit.ly/1osy7AT ). In response to the lawsuit, the city and Streetcar Authority said in a statement Thursday that they would continue to work to be ready for the planned public opening this spring.

The arbitration is over how bus drivers will be compensated if they are negatively affected by the streetcar line. The union contends the city is obliged to give its 650 members preferential hiring for streetcar-related jobs under decades-old labor agreements.

The bus drivers work for the Area Transportation Authority, not the city. But they are involved in the dispute because the $100 million streetcar system through downtown Kansas City received $37 million in federal grants for its construction. As a condition of those grants, the city promised to protect workers who could be affected by mass transit changes in the city.

“The construction of the Kansas City streetcar is the centerpiece of the city’s downtown revitalization,” Assistant City Attorney Tara Kelly wrote in a motion filed this week. “Yet on the eve of its opening, plaintiffs have filed this baseless lawsuit.”

The city’s contractor, Herzog Transit Services, has hired 11 streetcar operators and five maintenance staff while the arbitration is ongoing.

The city says the union wants all employees working on the Kansas City streetcar fired and no others hired until the arbitration is over, which could take months.

The lawsuit stems from a disagreement over an arbitration ruling from last July. The union contends the ruling guaranteed its members priority rights to streetcar jobs. The city argues that the arbitrator found only that the streetcar could harm drivers in the future, which could be resolved by monetary damages if that occurs.

“The streetcar has not and will not result in the elimination or replacement of any bus routes or bus services or cause any adverse impact to bus drivers,” the city’s legal brief says.

Union president J.P. Walker said that the city’s plan to expand the streetcar system could hurt bus service and his membership, and the issues should be addressed through negotiations.

“We’re not trying to be hostile about it,” he said, “but we’re not going to be bowled over and let them do whatever they want to do without a fight.”

The city argues in its brief that any injunction would hurt streetcar employees and deprive taxpayers of the streetcar they have paid for, while also “wasting extraordinary amounts of time and money.”

Walker argues that the streetcar could open on time if the city commits fully to arbitration.

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, https://www.kcstar.com

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