Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Juanita Carter, 67, boarded a Handi-Van at the Lanakila Multi-Purpose Senior Center yesterday at 1:45 p.m. after waiting for more than two hours. Carter, a diabetic who suffers from multiple medical problems, missed her noontime insulin shot.

Bus strike reduces
Handi-Van service

Only patients needing
"life-sustaining" trips
will be picked up

Handi-Van service is being cut back today except for kidney dialysis and other patients needing "life-sustaining" trips, officials said in anticipation of a sympathy strike by Handi-Van drivers.

Patricia Nielsen, vice president of Oahu Transit Services TheHandi-Van division, said she believes about 50 drivers out of the usual 80 to 90 will report to work today. They are expected to make about 100 to 125 trips today, she said.

Because the Handi-Van makes about 2,500 trips a day, it would be difficult to deliver and pick up everyone requesting service, she said.

Striking employees of TheBus, who are members of Local 996 of the Teamsters Union, were expected to picket in front of TheHandi-Van offices in Kalihi this morning.

Handi-Van drivers, who belong to the same union but are not on strike, can legally engage in a sympathy strike.

"We're not on any strike," said Handi-Van driver Elena Paongo. "We're just honoring the line."

Paongo said she and others won't cross the picket line this morning, but will work.

"We're all willing to work," she said. "All they gotta do is bring us the vans."

Handi-Van driver Pua Miner, who's also a shop steward, predicted about 75 percent to 85 percent will come to work, but won't cross the line.

Miner said Teamsters Local 996 president Mel Kahele informed Handi-Van drivers, "If they bring the vans out, that's not crossing the line."

"Our customers are our main priority," Miner said.

OTS officials may ask management to drive Handi-Vans across the line and into the streets so drivers can make their pickups.

"We're all concerned about our customers," Paongo said. "We're very compassionate, especially dialysis patients. We see them coming out of dialysis, they look like ghosts. Their whole life is dialysis and the Handi-Van. All we can do as drivers is keep them happy, comfort them."

Driver Saffery Brown III said he will be out making runs this morning.

"There's people out there that needs us," he said. He said he sympathizes with bus employees and might walk the picket line on his days off.

"They gotta do what they gotta do," he said, then added, "I hope this don't last too long."

Nielsen said all dispatchers reported to work yesterday, although five out of about 40 employees in non-driver jobs did not come to work.

She said the decision to cut services was made together with the city. Nielsen pointed out Handi-Vans do not provide emergency service.

"We're not an ambulance," she said.

The Handi-Van transports about 340 dialysis patients who receive two to three treatments a week.

Service went OK yesterday, Nielsen said, with delays mostly due to traffic.

Juanita Carter, 67, had to wait from 11:30 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. for a Handi-Van pickup at the Lanakila Multi-Purpose Senior Center. Carter, a diabetic who suffers from osteoarthritis, has had heart bypass surgery and is legally blind. She missed her noontime insulin shot. She said she normally doesn't have a long wait.

J. Roger Morton, OTS senior vice president, said Handi-Van workers will not be paid if they don't work.

St. Francis Medical Center spokeswoman Teri Tanaka said dialysis and chronic care patients had no problems yesterday in getting to its facilities for treatment.


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