OAKLAND — The AC Transit employees union and management met with a review board Monday to discuss stalled negotiations that almost led to an AC Transit strike last week.
Gov. Jerry Brown created the three-member board last Wednesday, immediately delaying a potential strike for seven days while the board conducts its labor dispute investigation. After that time, Brown will decide whether to request that the court grant a 60-day cooling-off period during which no strike could occur. The last time AC Transit workers went on strike was in 1977.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192 described its main grievances during the meeting, which include wage disputes and the health and safety issues affecting workers.
The last active contract between workers and management began in 2010 and expired in 2013. Since March, two contracts have been proposed and consequently rejected during union member elections.
“One of the values of a cooling-off period here would give us the time and space that we need to do that,” said Tom Prescott, AC Transit’s chief performance officer.
Wage disputes are one of the central causes of the stalled negotiations. The Great Recession economically impaired the employees, who have not had a wage increase since July 2009, according to union attorney Margot Rosenberg. AC Transit employees have experienced a series of wage cuts in the last three years including a 6 percent, 5 percent and 3 percent cut in each respective year.
David Smith, an AC Transit bus driver, said he hopes the two sides are able to reach a compromise because he realizes the public would suffer from a strike, and he personally cannot afford to lose work. Yet he also said that the past contract proposals have not been fair because raise increases have been offset by medical premiums.
“They’re taking away from us,” Smith said. “They’re trying to say that they’re giving us a raise, but I mean they’re making us pay more medical (so) that we’re not getting the raise at all … We’re in the negative.”
AC Transit management also said the recession has made the last five years financially challenging because the system is publicly funded and dependent on the local economy. Additionally, management said its bus operators are currently the 17th-highest-paid in the nation.
Both the union and AC Transit management have agreed that while wages are the main source of contention, health and safety concerns are also important.
When bus schedules become hectic, drivers may stay in their seats for sometimes seven or eight hours without having a chance to use the restroom or take a meal break, said Yvonne Williams, president and business agent of the union.
“Members also need to feel, along with the economics of the contract, that their health and safety issues are being addressed by the district,” Rosenberg said.