AC Transit Must Continue Talks

The Solution to AC Transit's Budget Needs Lies in Further Negotiations Between the Union and the District

Jaime Chong/Illustration

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No one doubts the severity of the Great Recession and its impact on public entities like AC Transit. What's at issue is - how did we get into this mess, and how do we get out?

The worldwide crisis was brought on by reckless lending of Big Banks, historic excesses on Wall Street, and tax cuts for the rich, which have left working people and their communities high and dry.

AC Transit faces an added burden for being the low agency on the totem pole for funds disbursed by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), which historically has favored rail service over bus service by huge margins. In other words, the salaries of AC Transit bus drivers and mechanics are not what got us here, but we are willing to do our share to solve the crisis, as we have done in the past.

Every three years we sit down with AC Transit and negotiate a contract that is fair for both workers and riders alike. In 1992, bus drivers and mechanics accepted a two-year wage freeze to meet another budget crisis. In 2004, we saved AC Transit $3 million by again freezing wages.

Then, there's this year. AC Transit showed up to negotiate with a high-priced Southern California lawyer who had no experience in public transit and a history of dictating contract terms rather than a history of negotiating. We went ahead and bargained in good faith, and to meet AC Transit's goal of saving $15 million from workers we proposed a contract that saved $9 million the first year, $6 million the second and $3 million the third - for a total of $18 million in savings, according to union documents.

AC Transit rejected our offer, and just minutes before the June 30 contract deadline its negotiators walked away from the table and challenged us to strike.

That same evening, AC Transit's board of directors voted to impose a non-negotiated contract, which included massive schedule changes that riders were not informed of in advance (a later court ruling called this imposition a "derogation of its duties").

On July 16, both sides were ordered by Alameda Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch to submit to neutral arbitration and finish our pre-existing contract. Union members immediately agreed to abide by that decision.

AC Transit challenged the order in court and used a "damage control expert" whom they have paid more than $175,000 in order to falsely blame bus drivers for the scheduling chaos caused by the imposed contract.

On Aug. 2, Alameda County Superior Court rescinded the imposed contract and noted that the chaos in fact was caused by terms of the contract, which among others things radically cut the number of drivers assigned to the system's "extra board" for filling missed bus runs.

AC Transit then unsuccessfully filed a motion to increase the union's "preliminary injunction bond" from $40,000 to more than $10 million dollars, and voted to challenge (again) the court's order to finish negotiations with the help of a neutral arbitrator.

All of these actions by AC Transit have wasted not only hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal and consulting fees but also have wasted months of precious time. We've been willing from the start to solve AC Transit's budget needs by negotiating the necessary savings through good faith bargaining.

We call on AC Transit's elected board and appointed officials to do the same.

Time - and money - is wasting.


Claudia Hudson is president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192. Reply to [email protected]

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