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Tuesday, August 26, 2003



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GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Isle commuters wait for their connecting rides as they transfer at the bus stop at the Bus Barn on Middle Street on the eve of the walkout by city bus drivers on Monday night.



ON STRIKE

City bus workers walk out
after negotiations break down


About 1,400 city bus workers went on strike at 12:04 a.m. today after last-ditch negotiations with management broke down.

"We're ready to go three months," said Mel Kahele, president of Teamsters' Local 996. He said no new talks were scheduled.

The strike, the first by Honolulu bus workers since 1971, is expected to clog traffic this morning as tens of thousands of bus riders search for alternatives to get to work, school or other destinations.

Kahele blamed officials for Oahu Transit Services, the private company that runs the city's TheBus system, for not taking the union's latest proposal to the city administration for consideration.

"I believe it is ludicrous for the company to believe that we are going to be in agreement with all the takebacks they are going to have on the bargaining table without even considering requesting for additional monies from the city and again from the City Council," he said.

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FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Last-minute bus strike negotiations took place last night in the Blaisdell exhibition hall's Maui Room. Teamster Local 996 President Mel Kahele, prior to the start of the negotiations, waited for the Oahu Transit Services team to arrive in the room.


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GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Mel Kahele looks at his watch during talks with OTS managment.


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GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Mel Kahele stands as talks break off .



OTS attorney Perry Confalone said management negotiators waited in vain for a contract proposal from the union during yesterday's nearly 10-hour session.

"What we wanted from the union was a definite proposal. I have never been in a negotiation where the union refuses to give you a piece of paper that tells you want they want.

"Today they refused to do that. They said: 'Well we want $3 million but you have to take off ... all your cost-cutting proposals before we put that in writing,'" he said, adding that the company could not do business that way.

Negotiations started just before 2:30 p.m. yesterday and broke off minutes after the midnight deadline.

OTS had curtailed its bus scheduled late last night to avoid stranding customers. The last bus ended its run about 20 minutes before the deadline.

TheBus handles an estimated 240,000 trips a day. The looming strike had left the city and state scrambling for ways to lessen the blow to traffic and the island's economy.

The bus workers want the city and OTS to drop plans to reduce some benefits and to cut service, which will lead to the layoff of 40 bus drivers. They also want wage and pension increases.

At about 12:04 a.m., Teamster 996 President Mel Kahele emerged from the conference rooms l to say a deal could not be reached.

Both sides met initially for an hour in a second-floor conference room of the Neal Blaisdell Exhibition Hall.

The union's latest proposal was presented to its members during a meeting Friday. It's a three-year contract that includes a 40-cent-an-hour wage increase, a 50-cent-an-hour pension increase each year and a 10-cent-an-hour increase to the employee early retirement fund.

In comparison, OTS officials are asking for a wage freeze for the first two years of the contract.

Throughout the day, a federal mediator shuttled between the two sides, kept in separate rooms from mid-afternoon until a face-to-face meeting that began about 10:35 p.m.

At that meeting, Kahele and Confalone were seen through the conference room window as they engaged in a heated discussion. The back and forth continued for another hour and a half.

Earlier in the day, Kahele said the union was willing to accept a lower wage increase, but only if OTS was willing to back off on taking away some vacation, sick leave and other benefits.

"We actually don't believe we're going to be able to settle unless the company decides on withdrawing their so-called 38 takebacks," said Kahele just before negotiations started. "We're looking at possibly going even lower (regarding wages), but then again its up to the (bargaining) committee."

Yesterday afternoon, the City Council advanced a bill to raise bus fares, which would increase revenues and avert the need for layoffs. The bill will be heard again by the Council next month.

But Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris told reporters afterward that there are not enough funds to support a wage increase for bus drivers.



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