Wave of Employee Absences Causes Delays for AC Transit Riders

Photo: AC Transit has seen a drop in employee attendance over the past week, which officials believe is in response to a newly implemented contract.
Anna Vignet/Staff
AC Transit has seen a drop in employee attendance over the past week, which officials believe is in response to a newly implemented contract.

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Hundreds of AC Transit employees have not been showing up for work each day throughout the past week since a new contract took effect July 18, resulting in increased delays for riders and furthering disputes between the agency and union workers.

The daily absences of about 200 employees - approximately 20 percent of all employees - has become the next phase in an ongoing battle between the agency and some 1,750 Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192 workers. AC Transit officials have deemed the absences a "sick-out," but union workers insist the action has not been organized and is the result of "impossible" work structures under the new contract.

AC Transit officials have said the new three-year contract does not significantly vary from the old one, but union workers say the new contract forces bus operators to work difficult hours, does not allow them to choose bus routes as the old contract did and forces them to drive routes for which they have not received training.

"AC Transit has wanted to invoke a strike during this whole process," said Claudia Hudson, president and chief negotiator of the union. "With the tools that we've been given, it is nothing but chaos."

Though negotiations began in April, both parties claim the other "walked away from the table" around June 29.

To solve the disputes, an Alameda County Superior Court judge ordered the transit agency on July 16 to hire a neutral arbitrator by July 30. Union members indicated that the absences of workers could continue until the arbitrator is hired.

After the contract went into effect, about 200 employees started disappearing from work each day, peaking at 250 workers on Tuesday, said Sam Singer, AC Transit spokesperson. By Friday, absences totaled 183 workers in what Singer said reveals a decline.

"On a typical day, there are under 100 people who don't come to work," he said. "When 200 people don't show up, that's a sick-out."

Singer said though the agency has not yet counted the absences over the weekend, there appeared to be quite a few missing, and he anticipates the absences will continue this week.

The agency believes employees are not showing up because the new contract freezes salaries and asks them to make a co-pay of $10 for health care insurance, according to Singer. Union workers said otherwise.

"They portray us bus drivers as being money-hungry," said Ann Boyd, a bus operator for AC Transit. "A lot of the employees are not showing up to work because they are put on the wrong schedule."

AC Transit has been warning riders of delays due to the employee absences.

"Sometimes the bus won't even come for a couple hours," said Hana Mastro, a regular AC Transit passenger. "It makes my day a lot more complicated."

Singer said it was unclear whether most of the absent workers had actually called in sick or whether they had simply stayed home, and AC Transit is currently looking into "legal remedies" to the employees' behavior.

"It's important that drivers show up," Singer said. "It's time for the union to step up to the plate and contribute."

Public Transportation and Housing Specialist Eric Thronson of the Legislative Analyst's Office said AC Transit officials and bus operators need to agree to stop the delays.

"AC Transit is in a situation where they need the concessions that they're looking for from the drivers," he said. "If drivers hold out, then riders are suffering ... If they don't concede, riders suffer."


Contact Matt Burris at [email protected]

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