Friday, September 5, 2003

After a brief break yesterday, Teamster President Mel Kahele, left, and union attorney Sean Kim walked back to the conference room at the Blaisdell Exhibition Hall where talks were being held to end a strike by TheBus workers.

Union open
to wage freeze

The two sides failed to reach
a deal last night and do not plan
to meet again until Monday

Union officials representing striking bus drivers said yesterday they would be willing to consider a two-year wage freeze to end the Oahu bus strike.

Talks between the Teamsters and officials from Oahu Transit Services Inc., the company that runs TheBus for the city, ended around midnight last night with no agreement to end the 11-day-old strike.

The two sides plan to meet next on Monday.

Earlier in the day, Teamster Local 996 President Mel Kahele said he "floated" the idea of accepting a two-year wage freeze during a morning radio talk show. He said that the union is willing to do "anything to try and end this strike so we can go out there and provide some transportation."

The Teamsters had been asking for 50 cent-an-hour raises in the second and third year of a three-year deal, while management has said there is no room for raises.

Yesterday's talks marked the third time both sides have met and failed to reach agreement.

"Things get a little bit unpleasant in there," said OTS chief negotiator Perry Confalone before negotiations began at 2:45 p.m.

Confalone said he had heard Kahele's mention of a two-year wage freeze over the radio but that OTS probably would not accept it.

"We feel we need to get some cost containment into this contract, and we stated from the beginning that wage increases are an important part of that," he said. "We feel that if we don't get some control on labor costs, we'll price transit beyond the reach of people, and that remains a major problem with these negotiations."

Confalone said OTS was interested in an early-retirement proposal by the union that enabled TheBus employees to retire after 30 years of service and have medical insurance paid by the company. However, OTS officials wanted to add that the employee had to be at least 60 years old to be eligible.

"We're looking at the company saving a lot of money in the event people have decided to retire," said Kahele, who added that under the proposal the company "would be saving thousands of dollars."

The issue of wage and pension increases, which remains the biggest obstacle between ending a bus strike, were not discussed.

During negotiations on Aug. 28, OTS and Teamsters rejected each other's pay proposals.

According to Kahele, the union's proposal included no wage increase the first year and increases of 50 cents an hour for the second and third years. OTS officials said their proposal consisted of no wage increases for the first two years of the contract with a provision to reopen talks about a possible wage increase during the third year -- a proposal the union rejected.

When asked if the idea of a two-year wage freeze included a 50 cent-an-hour wage increase for the third year, Kahele would only say, "something in that area."

Since the strike began, former bus riders have been scrambling to find alternate means of transportation. Many have taken to their cars and trucks again, adding to commuter congestion on Oahu's highways, while others are taking advantage of shuttle and jitney services provided by the city. According to OTS officials, TheBus handles 240,000 rides per day.

OTS officials said Handi-Van service was back at 100 percent yesterday. Handi-Van drivers are union members and work for OTS but are not striking because they are covered by a separate contract.

Prior to yesterday the company had curtailed Handi-Van service, in part because the vans are serviced at the Middle Street bus barn behind picket lines.

But OTS officials said they have worked around that problem by servicing vans at other locations. The Handi-Van services an estimated 2,500 riders daily.

"We've been doing some maintenance and light maintenance at an off site," said OTS spokeswoman Marilyn Dicus. "We were cautious because we just didn't know what was going to happen and we wanted to be sure we could serve every trip, and once we had enough experience with that, we felt that as reasonable to expand."


E-mail to City Desk


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2003 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --