NOW BOARDING — A rider boards a CityLine trolley at the corner of Washington and Mulberry streets.

Last week, efforts of Spirit of Kokomo and CityLine Trolley drivers to unionize crossed the finish line.

During last week’s meeting of the Kokomo Common Council, the first since the COVID-19 pandemic started, members of the council unanimously approved a union contract between the drivers and the city. The approval marked the final step in a unionization push that began last year.

“I drive for the city of Kokomo. I drive the Spirit of Kokomo buses. It’s been a long road, and I’m so very appreciative of this,” said Carrol Grove during the meeting. “The bus drivers need something like this. Thank you so much.”

The approval followed a previous vote to ratify the contract by the city drivers. During that vote, the majority of the city’s roughly 35 drivers voted in favor of the contract, which provided a myriad of benefits to the city employees.

Those benefits included two-paid vacations, 24 hours of paid personal leave, and one week of paid vacation that increases based on how long a driver has been employed by the city. Most of the contract mirrored an existing contract between the city and American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 2185, with the drivers now joining the ranks of AFSCME.

Additionally, the newly-minted union members now will be put on the same pay raise schedule as the other members of AFSCME Local 2185. Drivers will garner a 3-percent raise in 2021 and another 2-percent in 2022.

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According to At-large Council Member Matt Grecu, the total cost incurred by the city with the contract would be $61,500 in 2021 and $48,000 in 2022 due to salary increases and other similar factors.

But, some desires by the drivers weren’t met with their first contract. The effort to unionize reached the public setting last November, when the previous administration’s Board of Works approved a measure that set the stage for collective bargaining between the city and the drivers. At that time, drivers said they sought to make every driver a full-time employee of the city. That measure did not come to pass, with three part-time positions instead being transitioned to full time. This came in addition to the two existing full-time driving positions, while the rest remained part time.

In previous interviews, driver and city representatives noted that the matter of full-time positions could be renegotiated during a later contract and that budgetary constraints held back the push this time around.

“I think that’s where the biggest compromise was made between the administration and the drivers, both acknowledging the financial constraints it would put on, really, the city taxpayers,” said Kokomo Mayor Tyler Moore in a previous interview. “This way it would allow the most benefit for them with the least amount of challenges within the budget as possible. Obviously, that’s something the city council will have to work through as they discuss next year’s budget this summer.”

Speaking before the council, AFSCME Local 2185 President Jeff Haworth expressed gratitude to the city administration and council.

“I want to thank Kara Kitts-McKibben and Matt (Grecu) – they were on the negotiating team for the city – and your support, the whole city council, to do this,” said Haworth. “This has been a long, tough process and road for everybody. Thank you so much.”