First Transit bus operators OK strike plan
Bus service may be reduced if negotiations fall through
At a union meeting Sunday evening, 99 percent of First Transit bus operators who work at Yuma County Area Transit (YCAT) voted in favor of a strike if contract negotiations fall through this week.
“The operators here in Yuma – as you can tell 99 percent – that's one big show of discontent with the employer out here,” said Bob Bean, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1433, which represents bus operators.
Bean said that he plans to call the international ATU president of the union today to let him know of the vote so that if need be, they have the authority to shut down the YCAT buses if they cannot come to an agreement with First Transit, the contractor that operates the YCAT buses.
“They're claiming poverty, which is standard in contract negotiations,” Bean said.
Union officials will head back into negotiations today through Wednesday with First Transit.
“Nothing says that we're going to shut the bus service down this week,” he said. “It's definitely a great possibility in the future with the outcome of the vote tonight.”
The bus drivers were asked Sunday to vote on a strike so that if negotiations fail, then the union will already have the drivers' approval beforehand to strike.
He explained that the workers are asking for reasonable pay and sick time.
“These operators are the lowest paid professional bus operators in the Western region,” he said. “These operators have to go down across the border for their medical treatment because they can't afford the medical that First Transit is offering on $11 an hour. That says a whole lot.”
First Transit bus drivers in Yuma are paid an average of $11.43 an hour, while the state average is $18.73 an hour, he noted.
“We're hoping that in the next three days we have a contract ironed out,” Bean said. “Hopefully by the time we wrap this up on Wednesday afternoon, we do have a contract in place.”
Maureen Richmond, spokesperson for First Transit, also spoke to the contract negotiations.
“We have been negotiating in good faith with union representatives since late 2012. The negotiations have been productive and amicable, and we have every intention of reaching a resolution.”
She added that they have no reason to believe that there will be an interruption of service.
“Our team members are paid very competitive wages and we value the work they do every day,” Richmond said. “We are a local company that employs local residents and serves local passengers. Our size as one of the largest transit providers enables us to share economies of scale and expertise with our customer which greatly benefits the community.”
John Andoh, transit director of the Yuma County Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority (YCITPA), which oversees the YCAT bus system, said that this matter is between First Transit and ATU.
He stressed that the First Transit bus drivers are not YCIPTA employees and that negotiations “are outside of YCIPTA's control. We are not privy to the negotiations.”
The bus drivers reached out to the union last year and asked it to represent them in future negotiations with First Transit.
Andoh explained, “Our contractual arrangement with First Transit is fixed and there's no more money available. So it's something that if the drivers are looking for more money or more benefits, they will have to negotiate with First Transit.”
Sarah Womer can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6858. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSSarahWomer or on Twitter at @YSSarahWomer.