AC Transit's board of directors has imposed a new contract on the bus agency's 1,600 union employees after talks on a new contract stalled.
A three-year contract for bus drivers, mechanics and clerks expired on Wednesday and the board voted to impose a new contract Wednesday night because leaders of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192 refused to make the concessions that management was seeking, according to Sam Singer, an outside spokesman for AC Transit.
Singer said the bus agency, which serves parts of Alameda and Contra Costa counties, was seeking $15.7 million in labor cost savings to help close a projected $56 million funding gap for the two-year period ending June 30, 2011.
But he said that during three months of contract negotiations that began in March, the union's offer was "nowhere close" to $15.7 million.
ATU Local 192 lead negotiator Claudia Hudson couldn't be reached for comment Thursday. In a prepared statement, Hudson said the union offered $9 million in savings for the first year of a new contract with "substantial savings" in the second and third years.
However, Singer said management believes that the concessions offered by the union only total $2 million to $3 million.
Singer said the new contract imposed by the board saves $15.7 million by freezing wages as well as initiating work rule changes, co-pay policies for medical care and employee health insurance, and a two-tier pension plan.
He said union employees "will continue to have excellent benefits and pensions but will have to make health insurance premium payments and co-pays."
Singer said the district has taken other steps to reduce its budget gap by raising its fares, reducing its service and cutting management positions.
He said that because an impasse has been declared, the union has the legal right to strike but hasn't announced any plans to do so at this point.
AC Transit said in a statement, "The agency has advised all of its employees of the potential for a strike in the coming days or weeks and is poised to modify the district's operations should a strike occur."
The union has filed a lawsuit seeking to have a judge order the bus agency to participate in binding arbitration. A hearing has been scheduled for July 16.
But Singer said management believes that the union's suit will be dismissed because California courts have ruled that key financial decisions should be made by an elected board of directors instead of a non-elected third party such as an arbitrator.
Singer said the new contract that's being imposed by the board goes into effect on July 18 and will remain in effect until an agreement is reached between management and the union.