Many AC Transit Employees Still Out

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Wednesday July 28, 2010 - 11:07:00 PM

A high rate of employee absenteeism is continuing to plague AC Transit 10 days after it imposed a new contract on its employees, a bus agency spokesman said. 

Bus driver absenteeism has run about 15 to 20 percent per day and has forced AC Transit to cancel some routes, spokesman Clarence Johnson said. 

AC Transit's board voted on June 30 to impose a new contract after the collapse of three months of talks between the bus agency and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192, which represents 1,750 employees, including 1,200 bus drivers. The new contract took effect July 18. 

Management at the bus agency, which serves parts of Alameda and Contra Costa counties, said the high rate of absenteeism began when the new contract was imposed and alleged it is due to a sickout by employees. 

But ATU Local 192 lead negotiator Claudia Hudson said today that the union was not on a sickout and asserted the drivers were doing the best they could under the new contract. 

"AC Transit is creating havoc" by having a new contract and a new schedule, she said, adding, "AC Transit is putting service on the street in a different way and it's not working." 

Hudson said workers also don't like the way management is treating them. 

"We are not cattle, dogs and horses," she said. "We are people." 

She said management has asked drivers to work long hours under the new contract. 

But Johnson said there's no difference in work schedules for drivers. 

He admitted that drivers are asked to work split shifts in which they take long breaks in the middle of their schedules, but he said that's not unusual in the transit world because transit agencies want to make sure they have enough drivers available during their busy morning and evening commute periods. 

He also said drivers are paid during their breaks, which last as long as five hours. 

He said the main difference under the new contract is that workers now have to make health insurance premium payments and co-pays. 

The goal of the change is to save $15.7 million in labor costs to help close a projected $56 million funding gap for the two year period ending in June 2011, Johnson said. 

On July 16, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch ordered AC Transit to enter into binding arbitration with ATU Local 192 to try to reach an agreement on a new contract. 

The two sides have agreed on an arbitrator, but no new talks have been scheduled so far. 

The two sides will return to Roesch's courtroom on Friday, when ATU Local 192 will ask him to issue an injunction that would overturn the new contract imposed by management. 

AC Transit officials said that if Roesch overturns the new contract, the agency might appeal to avoid resorting to layoffs and a drastic reduction in weekend service. 

"When it comes to service cuts, we have virtually reached our limit," Interim General Manager Mary King said in a statement. "The only thing left, the only way to really handle our financial shortfall, is to eliminate all weekend service."