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AC Transit seeks cooling-off period as workers threaten to strike

Isabel Angell
AC Transit workers are threatening to shut down service starting Thursday

With a potential BART strike still looming, union workers from Bay Area bus agency AC Transit are gearing up for possible strike on Thursday. ATU Local 192 gave their 72-hour notice on Monday, while the agency has asked Governor Jerry Brown for a 60-day cooling-off period to prevent a strike from disrupting about 100,000 riders around the East Bay.

Unlike the BART labor dispute, management and the unions have a reached a deal -- twice. But the union rank-and-file rejected both of those contracts, the last time on October 2nd.

AC Transit spokesperson Clarence Johnson said the agency hadn’t heard anything from the unions since the two sides reached their last tentative agreement in late September.

“As far as their union leadership is concerned, it was a done deal. They sent out letters to their members telling them it was a good contract and strongly endorsing it and urging them to support it,” Johnson said.

Then membership turned it down, he said. “But no one got back to us again after that saying what exactly they wanted or were looking for or initiating a new negotiations with regard to the contract.”

ATU 192 vice president Ed Nash said the union membership thought they deserved more of a raise, and that the contract didn’t address their safety concerns.

The latest tentative agreement gave the unions a 9.5% wage increase over three years and required workers to start contributing to their health care premiums. Right now, ATU 192 workers don’t pay anything into their health care.

“It’s not even a matter of paying more, it’s a matter of paying something,” Johnson said. “At AC Transit, most of our employees pay 10% of their health care costs. We were asking ATU members to be on par with other employees in our organization.”

Nash said the union membership understands they need to start chipping into their health care, but that they would “like to start off lower.” By the third year of the contract, families would be paying $283 a month for the more expensive plan.

“We’re always concerned about the passengers, we don’t want to strike,” Nash said. But he said the unions were ready and willing to shut down bus service starting Thursday.

"We’re hoping the district shoots us a proposal,” he said.

Both sides said they were willing to start negotiating again, but no talks are scheduled before Thursday.

Isabel Angell is KALW’s transportation reporter. You can find her work and more stories at transportationnation.org.