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AC Transit Will Follow Judge’s Ruling to Honor Old Contract

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Tuesday August 03, 2010 - 08:50:00 PM

AC Transit is beginning to comply with a judge's ruling that the bus agency must honor its old contract with workers while the two sides engage in binding arbitration for a new contract, district officials said today. 

They said the agency has until Aug. 10 to fully comply with Alameda County Superior Court Judge Judith Ford's order, which prevents them from imposing a new contract on employees during negotiations. 

However, officials at AC Transit, which serves parts of Alameda and Contra Costa counties, said they are considering filing an appeal against the Monday ruling. 

Agency managers said in a prepared statement that the old contract is "costly and inefficient," losing the district $1.2 million in savings each month. It could ultimately mean the elimination of additional transit service and the loss of union jobs, officials said. 

When the old contract expired on June 30 after three months of talks failed to result in an agreement, AC Transit's board of directors voted to impose a new contract on members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192, which represents the bus agency's 1,750 employees, including 1,200 bus drivers. 

The new contract took effect July 18, but Ford ruled that the bus agency must honor the old contract while the union and management engage in binding arbitration. 

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. 

AC Transit's management said it imposed the new contract 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. 

The district says it has taken other steps to reduce its budget gap in recent years, including raising fares, reducing service and cutting management positions. 

AC Transit officials said that in order to comply with Ford's order, operators must be reassigned to their previous work schedules, and numerous internal procedures must be changed with regard to payroll, health benefits, lunch breaks, overtime and holiday bonuses, part-time work and cost-of-living adjustments. 

District officials said cutting bus service is one of the main actions they will consider to try to balance their budget. 

"We have already made heavy cuts in service, and it is not an area anyone wants to touch again," Interim General Manager Mary King said. "To do so could decimate our service, but doing nothing could make us insolvent. We have almost no options."