OAKLAND (KCBS)— A three-person panel appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown was holding a hearing Monday on a labor dispute between AC Transit and its workers that nearly led to a strike last week.
Members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192, which represents about 1,800 bus drivers, mechanics, dispatchers, clerical and other workers, were set to strike last Thursday, but late Wednesday afternoon Brown averted a walkout by calling for an investigation to consider management’s request for a 60-day cooling-off period.
On two previous occasions, the bus agency’s management and union leaders have reached tentative agreements on new contracts, but both were rejected by the union’s members. The most recent vote was held on Oct. 1.
According to AC Transit management, the bus agency is offering employees a 9.5 percent pay hike over three years.
However, union leaders say employees believe that proposed increase will be offset by management’s request that they pay more for their health care and retirement benefits.
Margot Rosenberg, an attorney for ATU Local 192, told the investigative panel at this morning’s hearing at the state building in Oakland that another important issue for employees is having enough time for meal and bathroom breaks.
“Drivers sometimes can’t get out of their seats for seven or eight hours at a time and don’t have time to use a restroom,” Rosenberg said.
ATU Local 192 President Yvonne Williams said employees suffer from a variety of health issues related to their working conditions, such as neck problems, heart disease and diabetes.
Tony Withington, a union leader and veteran bus driver, said, “Morale is poor with rank-and-file members because they’re upset that they aren’t getting the break times they need.”
AC Transit General Manager David Armijo said management is asking employees to pay more for their health care and retirement costs because those expenses are “rapidly escalating.”
Armijo said a contract must be reached that reduces those costs but still gives employees raises.
He said, “AC Transit remains at a critical juncture in its history” since its financial situation is precarious.
The panel will report its findings to Brown later this week and he will then decide whether to grant management’s request and seek a 60-day cooling off period. The cooling-off period would have to be ordered by a judge.
AC Transit, the third largest transit agency in the Bay Area, logs about 200,000 daily bus rides in its service areas in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
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