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Underground Bus Operators Charge AC Transit With Unfair Conditions

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Tuesday September 11, 2007

Negotiations between the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192 on a two-year contract that expired last June have been extended on a month-to-month basis. 

But with AC Transit officials calling the talk extensions “not unusual,” and with union officials not answering press inquiries, an underground, unaffiliated group of bus operators are worried that their concerns and grievances are not going to be met in the new contract. 

Group members have threatened a walkout if their demands are not met, but it is uncertain how many bus operators they represent, and whether a wildcat strike—not authorized by the union—could succeed. 

For several months, group members have been circulating anonymous newsletters called “The Bus” and “The Open Letter” among the 1,800 operators and mechanics represented by Local 192. Group members say they must stay anonymous for fear of losing their jobs. 

“We don’t know what’s going on with the contract talks,” one of “The Bus” publishers said in an interview last week. “The union’s not letting us know.” 

A spokesperson for AC Transit said that the district would not talk about any of the group’s concerns that might be the subject of the current contract negotiations.  

“It’s really improper to negotiate in the newspaper,” AC Tranist Director of Communications and External Affairs Mary King said this week by telephone. King said, however, that she would personally look into other grievances presented by the group that might not be part of the contract talks.  

“We should find a way to resolve them, or at least lessen their impact on our employees,” King said. 

Two years ago, AC Transit and ATU Local 192 agreed to a two-year deal that gave bus drivers and mechanics a 3 percent raise and a $3 million a year district contribution to a health care trust fund for retired district employees. 

But “The Bus” underground transit newsletter representative said that it is working conditions as well as money that are on bus operators’ minds around the district this year. 

“We’ve got a long list of grievances that aren’t being addressed,” the representative said. 

In a release sent out to media outlets late last month, the group listed an annual cost-of living increase, full compensation for all bus operators (including new hires), “a more sufficient retirement plan,” and a “modified medical plan” as among its grievances. 

“Other concerns,” the group added in its media release, “are the unsafe driving conditions, and unsafe vanpool buses transporting the elderly. We are prepared, if our obligations are not met, to initiate a walkout.”  

Meanwhile, in a leaflet labeled “Contract Issues” that was circulated among drivers earlier this year, the group charged that AC Transit “screws” new drivers to the tune of $8 less per hour and $16,000 less per year during their probationary first year of work with the district.  

“We all do the same work,” the drivers’ group wrote. “Actually, newest drivers do the harder runs in general.” 

The leaflet also charged that under the current contract, drivers receive a written reprimand if they take a sick day off any time their medical leave accrual drops below 24 days. 

One of the specific grievances, the newsletter representative said in the Daily Planet interview, involved what the representative called “unsafe” conditions when drivers use the restroom during late nights on some lines. 

“We get a break during the layover at the end of the lines, and that’s when drivers are able to use the restroom,” the newsletter representative said. But the end of the line layover for the 18 line is at Marin and San Pablo avenues, the representative said, with the only available restroom a two-and-a-half to three-block walk down San Pablo Avenue to a donut shop.  

“That’s dangerous late at night, especially for the female drivers,” the representative said.  

He added that the available restrooms for the 40, the 12, and the 15 lines were even worse. That layover is at 11th and Jefferson, site of the Lafayette Square park.  

“The only restrooms are in the park,” the newsletter representative said. “At night, you’ve got to share them with the prostitutes and the crackheads smoking dope and shooting up.”  

On some lines, some AC Transit bus drivers have been independently observed leaving passengers on their buses at a stop in the middle of the line to go into a nearby fast food restaurant to use the restroom.  

Meanwhile, a leaflet published last March by a group of anonymous drivers signing themselves as the “Emeryville Division Action Committee” charges that AC Transit is skimping on the federally required 30-minute meal period for drives, and that action is causing a safety problem for passengers. 

The leaflet, issued shortly before the new AC Transit schedules went into effect this summer and entitled “RIDER ALERT! Help Us Stop Unsafe Schedules! Drivers are Human Beings—Not Robots” reads in part: “How would you like a job where your longest break all day is SIX MINUTES? SIX MINUTES to eat, SIX MINUTES to walk a block to wait in line to use the restroom, SIX MINUTES to unwind and load passengers again, SIX WHOLE MINUTES—IF YOU’RE ON TIME? Is this job for human beings or ROBOTS?” The leaflet goes on to say that “While longer main lines have longer breaks on paper, there’s more traffic, passengers, questions, and wheelchairs to cut into those breaks, too.”  

One of the contract demands the group has listed in its “CONTRACT ISSUES” leaflet is that all driver runs include a 30-minute meal break and two paid, 15-minute rest periods.  

AC Transit Director of Communications and External Affairs Mary King said that while she had not seen any of the group’s newsletters and had not heard the specific grievances prior to being contacted by the Daily Planet, she was personally familiar with some of the issues that the group had raised. 

“When I first came to AC Transit two and one-half years ago, there was no place for drivers to use the restroom” in the 11th and Jefferson streets area, King said. “The park facilities were locked at night, and city officials didn’t want to have them open for safety reasons. I personally worked out an arrangement with the city to give our drivers access.”  

King said she had not heard of any problems with driver use of the Lafayette Square facilities since then, and thought that the deal with the city included having the restroom facilities locked, with drivers provided a key code. 

She said she was unfamiliar with the allegations about the use of the donut shop on the 18 line and would look into it.  

King said that other issues raised in the group’s newsletters and releases “appear to be matters which are subject to the contract negotiations” and therefore couldn’t be commented on by the district.