OCTA, Union Continue Bargaining to Avoid Bus Strike

ORANGE (CNS) – The Orange County Transportation Authority and a Teamsters local representing bus drivers will continue bargaining through the weekend in hopes of averting a possible strike Tuesday.

Meanwhile, OCTA officials were awaiting word on whether Gov. Gavin Newsom will approve a 60-day cooling-off period the agency requested Thursday.

“We’re bargaining day by day with the hopes of getting a contract agreement and something our members can vote on,” said Eric Jimenez, secretary- treasurer of Teamsters Local No. 952.

The strike would begin just after midnight Monday, he said.   

“We at OCTA want to do everything we can to avoid a strike, and any interruption to bus service would be extremely detrimental to our community,” OCTA Chairman Mark Murphy said. “We value the essential service that our coach operators perform and we want to continue to negotiate in good faith for the benefit of them, their families and all of our bus riders who rely upon our service.”

The main dispute in bargaining for a new contract appears to be lunches and breaks for drivers, and progress has been stalled, Jimenez said.

Union members believe the law requires the agency to provide times for drivers to take a lunch or other breaks, Jimenez said.

“They (the OCTA) feel they’re exempt from that law,” Jimenez said.  

The union leader said some of the drivers have complained of bladder infections from lack of bathroom breaks, and others have experienced dizziness behind the wheel due to hunger.

“That is one of our major issues,” he said. “It’s just inhumane.”

The drivers have been working since their last contract expired April 30.  

Pay increases and whether they would be applied retroactively is another issue, Jimenez said.

OCTA officials say about 85% of commuters rely on the agency’s buses for their primary means of transportation. They add that the average household income of more than half of the agency’s customers is less than $50,000.

If the governor approves the OCTA’s request to intervene it could allow negotiations to continue without a work stoppage. Newsom could appoint a board to investigate the labor dispute if he deems that a strike would endanger the public’s health, safety or welfare, the OCTA said.

Then the governor could go to court to have a judge pause a strike for 60 days while negotiations continue.

OCTA officials say they would be open to a mediator to help spur negotiations.

“Asking the state to intervene is not something we take lightly but for the well-being and safety of our passengers, it’s critical we take all necessary measures to avoid disruptions to bus service,” agency CEO Darrell Johnson said.

A strike would halt service on routes that serve nearly 75% of commuters daily. Since the agency contracts out some of its service, some buses could continue running, and transportation for commuters with disabilities would not be affected.

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