STRIKEWATCH: Judge pauses bus strike for 60 days

STRIKEWATCH: Judge pauses bus strike for 60 days

Michele Ellson

Updated at 11:18 a.m. Wednesday, October 23

An Alameda County Superior Court judge has elected to bar AC Transit workers from striking for the next 60 days.

Representatives for both AC Transit and its main workers union have said they would go back to the bargaining table if Judge Evelio Grillo decided today to prohibit workers from striking until December 22.

Governor Jerry Brown opted to seek the cooling off period Tuesday, a day after a three-person panel he appointed held a hearing on the labor dispute and determined that a strike would significantly disrupt transit service here and would cause significant harm to the public's health, safety and welfare.

“Another strike in the Bay Area is the last thing we need,” Brown was quoted as saying on his state Web page on Tuesday, the day BART trains began running again after a four-day strike. “I urge the parties to resolve their differences, keeping the bus-riding public in mind.”

AC Transit's leaders requested the cooling-off period on October 8, the week before BART workers went on strike, and the governor agreed to move forward on their request eight days later. They argued that a strike could leave tens of thousands of riders without any way of getting to work, school and medical appointments, impacts union representatives didn't dispute.

At a hearing Monday, both sides agreed that employee contributions to health care were one major impediment to a deal being accepted by workers and that poor morale driven by a spate of violence on buses and disagreement on meal and rest break issues drove a pair of tentative contract deals to defeat. In their statement to Brown's panel, AC Transit's leaders also claimed that a splinter group of workers was pushing for much higher wage increases - 25 percent over three years, compared to the 9.5 percent offered in two tentative agreements - and lower premium contributions.

"If ATU needs to deliver this level of pay raises to ratify an agreement then the parties are significantly apart," AC Transit's leaders wrote, referring to the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192, which represents nearly 85 percent of the East Bay bus service's workforce of about 2,000. Still, they expressed optimism that they could reach an agreement if the extra time were granted - something that didn't happen at BART.

Close to half of the union's roughly 1,700 members failed to vote on either of the two contract accords.

The bus system gives about 181,000 rides a day, including 37,000 to workers, 34,000 to students and about 13,000 to people heading to medical appointments, its submission to the panel said. Some 40 percent of AC Transit's riders live in households where no one has a car, and nearly 200 secondary schools and colleges, nonprofits and social services line its routes.

If carried out, the threatened strike could be AC Transit's first since 1977.

Related: AC Transit, BART disputes offer contrast