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Bus passengers board at RTD bus at Civic Center Park in Denver on Oct. 2, 2020. The public transit line is requiring passengers to wear a face mask because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Forrest Czarnecki/The Denver Gazette)

Members of the Regional Transportation District's largest union group have voted by a margin of 90% to 10% to approve a one-year extension of its collective bargaining agreement from February 2021 through February of next year.

"The primary objection to the extension was the wages and the hero pay that our frontline workers very arguably deserve," said Lance L. Longenbohn, the president and business agent of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1001, which represents approximately 2,300 operators and other employees. "And while RTD has received hundreds of millions in federal funds, its viability is at stake and those funds must serve a greater need for the long-term preservation of those workers’ jobs."

The vote total was 569 individuals in favor and 63 individuals against.

A bulletin issued on Feb. 9 from the local advised its members that there was "more than just pay on the table." Although the union's leadership recognized the desire for more money, the infusion RTD has received from federal relief is meant to retain workers. The district anticipates $203 million will arrive through a package Congress approved in December.

An RTD spokesperson declined to provide a statement until after the agency's board of directors votes on the contract extension at its Tuesday meeting.

The extension agreement includes a bonus to each employee of $500 and a $6.2 million annual contribution to the pension fund. Last month, RTD began recalling 137 part-time operators, following a decision in 2020 to lay off approximately 400 employees. The union cautioned its members before the vote that given those circumstances, in the "court of public opinion, we would have no support for raises."

"We will work with RTD to restore its viability," added Longenbohn, "and we will prepare for negotiations in which we will expect the District to recognize every effort and every sacrifice of its union frontline workers in doing so."

This story has been updated.

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