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Denver mass transit workers head back to work

/ Source: The Associated Press

After a weeklong strike sent thousands of commuters scrambling to get to work, union members prepared buses and trains to spring back to life for the morning rush hour.

Mass-transit mechanics were getting the vehicles ready for the restoration of public transportation Monday in the Denver area, after securing a contract that included a larger initial raise.

“We should have the full complement of our RTD fleet ready to roll in time for the Monday morning rush,” Regional Transportation District spokesman Scott Reed said.

The walkout by about 1,750 mechanics, bus drivers and train operators began April 3 when union members ignored their leaders’ recommendation and rejected a contract offer.

On Friday, members overwhelming approved a new offer that promised the same wage increase, but sooner.

“I didn’t hire on to strike, but I believe in standing up for ourselves,” bus driver Len Robinson said.

Robinson said he would be behind the wheel early Monday and didn’t expected most of his passengers to hold the strike against him or other union members.

“I’m thinking they’ll be glad we’re back,” he said.

Car commuters could also expect some relief with lighter traffic on heavily traveled thoroughfares. Traffic on U.S. 36 between Denver and Boulder was up about 13 percent during the strike, said Stacy Stegman, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

Under the new contract, workers will get a raise of $1.80 an hour over three years, starting with 50 cents an hour retroactive to March 1. The remainder will come in smaller quarterly increments through Dec. 1, 2008.

The transit district will also increase its contribution for health insurance and for a health-and-welfare trust fund.

The Regional Transportation District serves Denver and all or parts of seven surrounding counties, an area with about 2.5 million residents. It averages about 275,000 rides per weekday.