Bus strike averted for now
A strike by bus drivers has been averted, at least for the time being. For now, Yuma County Area Transit (YCAT) routes will continue to operate as normally scheduled.
Contract negotiations will continue in March between First Transit, the contractor that operates the YCAT buses, and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433, which represents the drivers.
Transit director John Andoh said First Transit had notified the Yuma County Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority, the agency that oversees YCAT, that negotiations concluded Wednesday and would reconvene in March.
Andoh declined to explain why negotiations are being continued in March, saying that he's “not privy to the negotiations” and was simply advised by First Transit of the latest development.
First Transit spokeswoman Maureen Richmond said “negotiations ended amicably” on Wednesday but also did not explain why negotiations would be continued.
“We are currently setting up the next negotiation dates. These have not been finalized, but we will continue the negotiations with the goal of reaching a resolution,” Richmond said.
Bob Bean, union president, did not return a phone and email messages from the Yuma Sun asking for comment Wednesday.
The union threatened to shut down the YCAT buses if contract negotiations fell through this week. Union officials and First Transit were expected to negotiate Monday through Wednesday, but the bus drivers and mechanics had already approved a strike if negotiations failed.
Last April, First Transit bus drivers and mechanics voted unanimously to join the union, a decision that came as a surprise to the company. The workers asked the union to represent them in future negotiations with First Transit.
The first few rounds of negotiations with First Transit had gone “nowhere,” Bean said last week.
“They're claiming poverty, which is standard in contract negotiations. I am fully prepared to shut down the YCAT buses if we cannot get an agreeable contract.”
Richmond said last week the company has been “negotiating in good faith” with union representatives.
“The negotiations have been productive and amicable, and we have every intention of reaching a resolution. We have absolutely no reason to believe there would be any interruption in service,” she said.
Bean said the bus operators are asking for reasonable pay and sick time, noting that they are some of the lowest-paid professional operators in the West.
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.
“They're not even making it above poverty level,” Bean said. “We're trying to get them a contract so they can afford to live.”
Richmond disputed this, saying that “our operators and technicians are paid very competitive wages.”
Mara Knaub can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.