YCAT bus strike looms if contract talks fail
A union representing local bus operators is threatening to shut down the Yuma County Area Transit (YCAT) buses if contract negotiations fall through early next week.
“I am fully prepared to shut down the YCAT buses if we cannot get an agreeable contract,” said Bob Bean, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433, which represents bus operators.
Bean said the first few rounds of negotiations with First Transit, the contractor that operates the YCAT buses, have gone “nowhere.”
“They're claiming poverty, which is standard in contract negotiations,” Bean said.
Before union officials head back into negotiations Monday through Wednesday, First Transit bus drivers will take a strike vote 6-8 p.m. Sunday. Bus operators will be asked to decide whether they want to strike if negotiations fall through. If negotiations fail, then the union will already have the drivers' approval beforehand to strike.
“I've been known to set up a picket line on the drop of a dime,” Bean said.
If an agreement is not reached by Wednesday, “come Thursday or Friday, there won't be any buses operating in Yuma,” he added.
The workers are asking for reasonable pay and sick time.
“The YCAT operators are some of the lowest paid professional operators in the West. They also have to work six days a week to maybe make 36 hours a week,” Bean said.
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.”
And while First Transit offers medical benefits, Bean claims the bus operators can't afford them. “The majority of them end up going to San Luis (Rio Colorado, Mexico) for their medical needs because they can't afford it in Yuma.”
The workers also don't have sick days. “If they do take a day off, it goes on their attendance record and after a certain number, they're fired,” Bean explained.
The bus drivers reached out to the union last year and asked it to represent them in future negotiations with First Transit, Bean said.
In April, the bus drivers voted 23-0 to join the ATU Local 1433. The decision to hold the vote came as a surprise to First Transit.
“It kind of came out of the woodwork,” said Donald Kilner, who was then First Transit general manager.
At the time, Kilner indicated that the company would not interfere if the bus operators chose to join the union. However, he explained, since Arizona is a right-to-work state, no current or future employee of First Transit would be required to join the union as a term of employment.
Current First Transit general manager Rachel Harris did not return a phone message left by the Yuma Sun asking for comment.
Contacted by the Yuma Sun on Friday, John Andoh, transit director of the Yuma County Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority (YCIPTA), which oversees the YCAT bus system, said he had not heard of a possible strike and problems with contract negotiations.
“I would have thought someone would have told me if there was a problem.”
He said First Transit and the union have been negotiating since its formation in April.
However, Andoh said, “it's a matter 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.”
After the union vote last year, 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.”
Mara Knaub can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.