SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — The South Bay’s largest transit agency says riders should be prepared for pared down bus service and no light rail trains if they are not able to avoid a looming strike with the union representing bus drivers and train operators.
The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority says it has a plan to hire a limited number of “contracted workers with experience in bus operations.” In a blog post, a spokesperson for the transit agency says VTA will focus on keeping its most popular bus routes running during a strike. However, light rail operators will not be replaced and train would not run until a potential strike was ended.
“That’s going to be bad for a whole lot of people,” said rider Cornelius Solomon, who relies solely on the transit agency to get where he’s going. “You’ve got the elderly. You’ve got the young.”
VTA bus and light rail operators are inching ever closer to a potential strike. Early Thursday morning, the union announced members rejected what the transit agency has called its final offer.
The VTA and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 265 have been in talks since last August to finalize a new labor contact. They’ve reached 37 tentative agreements, but the two groups have been tied up over a wage increase and the VTA’s push for union members to begin making larger contributions toward their pensions.
Commuters worry about the potentially crippling effects of a strike.
“This is the only commuter system for me. I don’t use a car. And if they were to go on strike, it would definitely affect a lot of commuters like me,” said Murugan Thanikkoti who ride light rail to work.
About 1,300 “classic employees” in the union currently pay 1.9 percent of their gross salary toward a 6 percent employee pension contribution, according to VTA spokeswoman Brandi Childress, and VTA pays the remainder. Non-union employees pay the full employee contribution, and any employees hired after 2016 also pay the full amount.
VTA has offered a 3.1 percent lump sum of each employee’s salary over the next three years to transition the classic employees into increasing their contribution to 5 percent, but this lump sum will only offset the first year of increased expenses for union workers.
Childress said the state government could then implement a “cooling period” and push the two parties to return to the table. Workers are also required to give a 72-hour notice for any work stoppage. If a strike does happen, it could take place as early as the first week of July.