Talks between Bay Area bus agency AC Transit and the union that represents its drivers and dispatchers are continuing after California governor Jerry Brown stopped halted a strike last week with a 60-day cooling-off period. ATU Local 192 had been threatening a strike that would shut down bus lines across the East Bay from Richmond to Fremont.
The cooling-off period is the same tactic Brown used to delay a BART strike back in August. But BART and its unions were not able to come to an agreement during those 60 days. Instead, the unions went back on strike for four days before the two sides reached a deal.
But AC Transit’s labor dispute has been very different than BART’s. Both management and the union say the bargaining has been in good faith. They have reached a deal twice, but they were rejected by union membership each time. Both times, less than 50 percent of the membership voted.
Wages aren't the issue in this contract dispute -- both sides already agreed to a 9.5 percent raise over three years back in August. Instead, the biggest sticking point is health care payments. Historically, ATU 192 workers have never contributed to their health care. While union reps acknowledge that will change, they said membership felt the payments in the last tentative agreement were still too high-- especially for the lower-paid workers. Under that contract, families would have had to pay $283 per month by the third year, under the more expensive option.
ATU president Yvonne Williams said the membership is also concerned about drivers’ safety on the more dangerous bus routes and wants improved visibility from law enforcement.
Governor Brown ordered the cooling-off period after a week-long investigation into the negotiations by state labor officials. The report from those officials recommended the cooling-off period, noting both parties' commitment to reaching a deal before the end of the 60 days.
The demographics of AC Transit riders was also a big factor in the report’s recommendation. A strike would have disproportionately affected lower-income people and vulnerable groups. More than half of AC Transit riders don’t have a drivers’ license, and 63 percent are considered low-income-- compared to 29 percent of people in the agency’s service area. The report also mentions that 17,000 students take AC Transit to school or college, and that 15,000 seniors rely the bus each day. Another estimated 10,000 daily riders have disabilities.
The 60-day cooling-off period will end in late January.