For years, AC Transit employees have worked through thick and thin with management to keep service on the streets. Claudia Hudson, vice president of Amalgamated Transit Workers Local 192, representing over 1800 AC Transit workers, says their dedication has not been rewarded. Already working since June without a contract, bus operators, maintenance workers and clerical workers represented by Local 192 voted 940-299 to reject AC Transit’s newest contract offers last Tuesday.
“We also voted to authorize a strike, which is normal,” Hudson said .
The strike authorization “sends a message to management to come back to the table with another package, and gives our executive board the ability to declare a strike in case negotiations break down.”
Such negotiations will resume Oct. 6, when Christine Zook, union president, returns from vacation.
When asked for AC Transit management’s position on the negotiations, Mike Mills, public information manager said, “There is no public statement. We do not negotiate contracts in the press. All deals are done behind closed doors.”
Such deals, says Hudson, have always ended up unfavorably for AC transit employees.
“We are the seventh largest transit organization in the nation, and we rank 26th in income. When you consider that the Bay Area has one of the highest living costs in the nation, it’s easy to see why the union rejected this contract.”
Hudson, who has worked for the bus company for 21 years, said negotiation history shows salary increases that don’t add up to the higher demands of living in the East Bay. She herself had to move to Vallejo to own a home and live on the wage she was given.
In 1989, the union received an 8 percent increase only for bus operators, and created a two-tier wage scale in maintenance, dividing the union’s members. In 1992, a two year freeze limited wages to those 1989 levels. 1994 negotiations lead to a 9 percent increase until 1997, when a 75 cent increase was negotiated.
Now, with the 1997 contract elapsed, management brought a 20 percent raise over the next three years to the table.
The timing of the possible strike is also important. Measure B is on the November ballot. If the voters approve the measure, it would extend a half-cent sales tax that will go, in part, toward expanding AC Transit services.
Since 1986, Measure B has allocated $11 million annually to AC Transit operations. Renewing the measure would increase that amount to $21 million, an increase of $10 million a year, which Mills says would, “maintain today’s levels of service and open up new levels of service.”
Very little of this money, however would go to the workers, Hudson said.
“This money is going to the daily costs of running operations. Not even a fourth of it would go to employees,” she said.
Already, proposals to add service to the Berkeley-Oakland-San Leandro corridor have been drawn up, along with “street car” services along San Pablo Boulevard, Mills said.
“These would help develop neighborhoods along the line, and increase service along what are already very busy corridors.”
Should Measure B fail to pass, however, “the picture wouldn’t be as optimistic” Mills said.
“It would amount to a $10 million decrease in operating expenses.” While Mills did not say that job cuts would result, “changes can’t be determined. But it’ll have a substantial impact.”