AC Transit Effort to Cut Labor Costs Overruled

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As delays drag on for AC Transit riders, more service cuts and layoffs are in store for the agency, whose plans to save $15.7 million were disabled Monday in a court ruling.

The Alameda County Superior Court overturned the agency's work rules, which were adopted in a new contract with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192 on July 18 to reduce labor costs, saying that AC Transit lacks the right to impose such rules on the union, according to agency spokesperson Clarence Johnson.

After the union's previous contract expired June 30, the work rules went into effect to reduce labor costs by $15.7 million in a $56 million budget gap projected for a two-year period ending June 30, 2011. The rules modified overtime procedures, instituted employee co-pays for medical care and established a new pension plan for future employees.

"AC Transit eliminated a process that has been in place since 1994 and had no set of eyes looking at what they were putting on the street," said Claudia Hudson, president and chief negotiator of the union.

AC Transit's board of directors met later on Monday and decided not to appeal the court's ruling, meaning the old contract would be reinstated by Aug. 10. Without work rules, the agency will lose $300,000 per week and will need to raise $15.7 million through additional service cuts and layoffs, according to Johnson.

Throughout the last two weeks, a rolling "sick-out" - involving AC Transit operators who Johnson said are also union members - has plagued bus service for commuters, incurring delays ranging from a few minutes to an hour. Johnson said there are still at least a hundred employees calling in sick daily.

He added that the agency is trying to schedule an arbitration process with a third party as requested by the union. To address union concerns, an arbitrator would listen to both sides and make a binding decision regarding the new contract.

In order to reduce costs, AC Transit has already eliminated over 70 general and administrative staff positions, raised local, senior and youth transit fares and cut service hours by 7.8 percent in March and an additional 7.2 percent in June. The board also cut its own salary by 5 percent, travel expenses by 50 percent and eliminated a special travel account for transit advocacy. Though the agency has saved $20 million through these cuts, it still needs $36 million to balance its budget.

"We have very few options," Johnson said. "We can either get contributions from labor or reduce the amount of service that we put out."

Meanwhile, service reductions are affecting riders in the community.

Leanne Fan, a UC Berkeley student and member of the Suitcase Clinic, said she waited two hours last week while trying to visit a neighboring program, Earn It! Keep It! Save It! in West Oakland.

"I could've taken BART from Downtown Berkeley to West Oakland but opted for a money-saving adventure," Fan said. "For me it's an inconvenience, but for many other people it's more than an inconvenience - it's not being able to get to work on time."

Ryan "Rocky" Fernandez, president of the board, said the agency's goal is to save weekend service and avoid further layoffs, adding that he hopes bus drivers offer proposals to further reduce the budget gap.

"We're always trying to get more operating funds out of state, local and federal agencies," he said. "Right now, reducing service is one of the only options we have right now due to the declining economy."


Contact Caroline Cook at [email protected]

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