- Associated Press - Friday, March 25, 2016

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Streetcars remain on track to open to the public in May in Kansas City after a judge rejected a request by the bus drivers’ union to delay the plans while a labor dispute is resolved.

Jackson County Judge W. Brent Powell said Thursday in denying the request that the union had failed to establish “irreparable harm” if the project opens to the public, The Kansas City Star (https://bit.ly/1UQAwSm) reports.

“The citizens of the city of Kansas City, Mo., and the surrounding communities, in addition to the local downtown businesses, have patiently endured the construction and planning phases of this significant project,” Powell wrote. “It is time for this patience to be rewarded with the operation of this public project.”

The $100 million downtown streetcar system got $37 million in federal grants. The union argued that as a condition of those grants, the city must ensure the existing bus drivers aren’t adversely affected by the new transit system, which will run 2.2 miles from the River Market area through downtown to near Union Station.

The union argues the streetcar operation is obliged to give its union drivers priority for those streetcar jobs. The city disagrees.

The union wanted the project’s public kickoff delayed until an arbitrator rules. An arbitration hearing is scheduled for April 21, but the streetcar system is in testing and other drivers have already been hired.

Attorney Doug Taylor, who represents Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1287 and its president, J.P. Walker, argued that the delay was needed “to protect labor and the process, not just employees.”

The city, however, believes the streetcar operation will not harm the bus drivers but will in fact enhance their opportunities, including additional bus overtime on nights and weekends to complement the streetcar schedule.

The more important decision on the union’s members and collective bargaining power with the streetcar project will come from the arbitrator after April 21. George Ingham, an attorney representing the city and the Streetcar Authority, doubted the arbitrator could rule by the May 6 scheduled opening but said it might not come too long after that.

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

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