Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Court Halts OCTA Bus Drivers' Strike

The strike has been blocked. For now, at least, Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) bus drivers will NOT be allowed to walk off the job and begin striking over their labor dispute. So why has the strike been blocked? Arnold went to court. (From OC Register)

They determined that a bus strike would cripple the county's transit system and disrupt the lives of thousands of residents.

In addition to affecting more than 200,000 daily bus passengers, a strike would have adverse economic impacts on businesses, with a potential loss of $800,000 in sales per day.

The findings of a state-appointed ad-hoc panel were sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who in turn asked state lawyers to seek an injunction to prevent a strike from happening Monday.

"He sees this labor dispute as a safety issue for the county," said aide Sabrina Demayo Lockhart, a spokeswoman for the governor's office. "We think this next step will help."

So why can't the OCTA drivers strike? The court agreed with the finding of the ad-hoc panel appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger that too many Orange County residents would lose their mobility.

A walkout would "significantly impair the health, safety and welfare ability of a sizeable portion of Orange County residents," according to the report.

The board was appointed last week to gather information about the dispute between bus drivers and their employer, the Orange County Transportation Authority.

An Orange County Superior Court judge agreed with the board's findings Monday and ordered a 60-day cooling-off period that bars 1,100 bus drivers from walking off of the job and potentially leaving thousands of bus riders stranded.

And what does this mean for the workers? How are they feeling about this? And is there room for an agreement between the bus drivers and OCTA that can potentially avoid any strike altogether? Apparently, $2.8 million can make a big difference.

Currently, OCTA bus drivers earn hourly wages of between $13.72 and $21.42. Currently, OCTA and the union are about $2.8 million away from reaching an agreement.

OCTA officials say the wage increase is based on economic projections prepared by Chapman University. Union leaders argue that Chapman's projections were off three years ago during a previous contract negotiation, and were inaccurate during recent negotiations.

Patrick D. Kelly, principal officer of union Teamster Local 952, said union members will spread their message to the public and bus riders to drum up support.

In terms of negotiations, Kelly said the union cannot ask for less than the $210 million, three-year contract it requested. The OCTA has offered the union a $207 million contract, about a 13.3 percent increase in wages and benefits.

"I don't think there's much room for us to make a lot of movement," Kelly said. "[The OCTA]hasn't moved one iota in the last couple of months. … It might get to be a hot summer."

Now that the court has ordered more time for negotiations, let's hope that OCTA can reach an agreement with its workers. The economic well-being of these workers is at stake. If Chapman's economic projections really are off, then OCTA needs to bridge the $2.8 million gap and pay the workers what they need to make ends meet.

Oh yes, and this is not just about the well-being of the bus drivers. This is about the economic well-being of the entire county. If OCTA cannot reach an agreement with the drivers, and if the drivers have no option left but to strike, then there will be way too many thousands of people who would suddenly be immobilized. They wouldn't be able to go to work, or go to school, or go to the grocery store, or really go anywhere. We can't let that happen.

Let's hope OCTA uses this opportunity to make a deal with the bus drivers that all sides can agree to, because no one can afford to just not get around.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are in San Diego