Bus service could be halted in potential strike by OCTA drivers over contract talks – Orange County Register

Some bus lines in Orange County could be halted next week as hundreds of transit drivers plan to strike if a deal cannot be reached with their employer, the Orange County Transportation Authority, on a new contract.

The drivers, members of the Teamsters 952 union, authorized a strike last month after refusing a proposed contract. Negotiations have continued, most recently with the groups meeting over the weekend, but they have yet to reach an agreement.

The agency has been warned by the union that a strike could begin Feb. 15, OCTA officials said in a statement.

Another negotiation meeting is scheduled for Wednesday.

Still, the agency that provides bus service throughout Orange County is telling passengers to prepare for potential disruption “in the event a deal is not reached in time.”

A work stoppage would impact 20 bus routes throughout Orange County, which carry about 75% of the agency’s ridership, OCTA spokesman Joel Zlotnik said. The remaining 32 routes offered by OCTA, which carry fewer passengers, are operated by contract drivers not represented by this bargaining unit. These would continue in the event of a strike, Zlotnik said.

The union and his employer have been trying to negotiate a new contract for over a year. The existing agreement expired in April.

Among the issues that still need to be agreed are wages and break times for drivers.

Teamsters secretary-treasurer Eric Jimenez said union officials are “very aware that public transit is essential for many people,” saying OCTA “can prevent a strike by reaching a fair deal with its coach operators”.

Union members have already overwhelmingly dropped two proposed contracts – one in September was rejected by 486 to five, and another in January was rejected by 420 to 75, he said.

While bearing in mind the impacts of a work stoppage, Jimenez said union officials “have confidence, however, that the bus user understands that they have an obligation to ensure that operators bus workers he represents receive a fair and decent wage, as well as giving them the opportunity to engage in the basic human functions of food and other human needs.

If an agreement cannot be reached, the bargaining unit, which includes approximately 600 OCTA transit drivers, will strike “until OCTA’s labor relations come to its senses and engage in negotiations in good faith,” Jimenez said.

OCTA CEO Darrell Johnson said in a statement that the agency “has exceptional coach operators and we have provided them with a very generous offer that compensates them for the essential work they do. At OCTA, we are all aware of the hardship a strike would cause for the thousands of passengers who depend on the bus every day and we are doing our best to reach a successful resolution.

Zlotnik said the agency was preparing to send a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom asking him to intervene to keep transit services running in the event of a strike, as part of a process “set out in California law regarding labor disputes in public transport”.

The governor could delay a strike for weeks if he believes a work stoppage would “significantly disrupt public transportation services and endanger the health, safety, or welfare of the public,” the law says. .

The statute allows the governor to create a five-member council to investigate the dispute and prepare a written report within a week that sets out the facts and positions of each side. The governor can then apply to the state attorney general for a court order prohibiting a strike for 60 days.

OCTA’s letter to Newsom “would request both the formation of the Board of Inquiry and that a request be made to the Attorney General to continue the 60-day cooling-off period following the results of the investigation,” it said. said Zlotnik.

Melvin Z. Madore