Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Sun Tran Strike: Day 20, Another Route is Added to Limited Bus Service

Posted By on Tue, Aug 25, 2015 at 12:00 PM

click to enlarge MARIA INÉS TARACENA
  • Maria Inés Taracena

Sun Tran says they were able to add a ninth route to the limited weekday service they're providing because of the bus drivers' and mechanics' strike that's been going on for 20 days now

Route 9 (Grant Road and Campbell Avenue, as well as downtown) will start running today, thanks to a combination of transit assistance coming down from Phoenix, as well as other Sun Tran employees who are returning to work—unrelated to the strike—according to Kandi Young, Sun Tran's marketing and communications director.

The current schedule for routes is Monday to Friday from about 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

Here's a list of the routes:
 Route 3 – 6th St./Wilmot
 Route 4 – Speedway
 Route 8 – Broadway
 Route 9 – E. Grant
 Route 11 – Alvernon
 Route 16 – Oracle/Ina
 Route 18 – South 6th Avenue
 Route 25 – South Park Avenue
 Route 29 – Valencia
“Sun Tran remains committed to providing service during this work stoppage, as we understand how
additional service is a benefit to the community,” said Kate Riley, Sun Tran General Manager, in a statement to the media. “We also ask all employers with bus riding employees to please be patient during this time. We are working on adding more service as additional resources become available.”

Here's a recap of the strike:

Wages
Members of the Teamsters Local Union 104 have been on strike for 15 days now. It began at midnight on Aug. 6, when the union and Sun Tran reps didn't agree on each other's proposals for a new contract.Sun Tran's offer included a raise of 50 cents (from $13.30 to $13.80) for drivers starting out, an 11th paid holiday, and continued company-supported pension and health coverage. It didn't include pay raises for current workers, at least for the next three or so years.

The union wanted at least a 75-cent raise for workers in their first year, a $1 raise for their second and third year, and for Sun Tran to unfreeze wage progression for all other employees.During 2013 negotiations, the Teamsters were told by Sun Tran management that there weren't enough funds to support raises, so the union launched an independent audit, which last year revealed that Sun Tran returned a total of $2.2 million to the city in 2013 and 2014, money that was specifically meant to go toward wage increases and benefits, according to Andrew Marshall, the Teamsters Local Union 104's secretary and treasurer.Sun Tran says, on average, drivers make $16.72 an hour, with more than half making $19.22. About the $2.2 million, the company claims it was Regional Transportation Authority money for service expansion, and because of that, it couldn't be used for anything else, such as raises.

"The Teamsters' proposal is unsustainable. Even with the poor economic situation over the last seven years and at a time when wages and benefits have been cut for many in our community, Sun Tran has been able to maintain a competitive compensation package," said Kate Riley, Sun Tran's general manager, in a statement to the media. "For example, a total compensation package for an entry level coach operator when you evaluate annual earnings, pension and medical, dental and vision benefits is worth over $46,000."

In total, the Teamsters' demands would increase the city of Tucson's general fund contribution to the transit company by $20.3 million over the next three years, according to Sun Tran. But Marshall says the figures Sun Tran used are outdated. "That simply was the proposal on the table when (Sun Tran) cut off negotiations. The final offer we gave to the mediator is $5.7 to $7.7 million, depending on how (they) calculate the frozen wages progression," he says.

Mold
Sun Tran has known about the mold issue at least since 2010, when the company first built the northwest maintenance facility, according to Marshall. In 2012 and 2013, a testing company verified there was mold there, but Marshall says Sun Tran didn't do anything to fix it. What's worse to Marshall is the fact Sun Tran is telling employees to deal with the mold, rather than hiring professionals to clean up the mess, he says.

"They are acting like it is not a big deal, and it is absolutely crazy," he says. "Respiratory diseases from this mold can be fatal. I don't know what they are trying to accomplish here."Young says Sun Tran found out about the mold in July, and that they've dealt with it the same way they have in the past. It's particularly challenging during the monsoon, but they have ran three quality tests at the facility, and "the air quality is higher than the air outside," she says.

For now, there are pending unfair labor practice charges against Professional Transit Management—the company hired by the city to oversee Sun Tran—which means those involved in the strike cannot be fired or replaced. None of the drivers and mechanics are getting paid for the time they're picketing though, and Marshall says this is saving Sun Tran at least $750,000 every week the strike's still on.

Last Thursday, the union brought a federal mediator on board to help with negotiations. By press time on Tuesday, no meetings had happened. Merely eight of 43 routes are in transit, leaving the roughly more than 60,000 passengers scrambling to find other transportation options.

Safety Concerns
All-in-all, there have been 22 assaults on bus drivers in the past 13 months, according to the Teamsters Local Union 104, which is leading the strike. That includes beer-throwing, spitting and more violent incidents. Young says the company has worked side-by-side with the union to establish a safety committee, and have implemented the use of off-duty police officers on buses and at bus stations.

In Recent Days...
On Friday, the federal mediator contacted Teamsters Local 104 Principal Officer Andrew Marshall, and told him Sun Tran management hadn't provided any proposal to present to the Teamsters negotiating committee, and confirmed that Sun Tran’s firm and final offer of July 31, which is what led to the strike, remained in place, a press release from the Teamsters says.

Members of the Tucson Bus Riders Union met on Monday with Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and City Manager Michael Ortega to discuss possible city involvement to help with a resolution. Law says the mayor and City Council cannot intervene in these negotiations, because Sun Tran employees are not city of Tucson employees. "The Federal Transit Administration requires that, to receive federal funding for transit, transit employees must have strike rights," a media release from the mayor's office said last week. 

The mayor has called on both sides to talk it out and end the strike.

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