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Sunday, September 28, 2003



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CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Timothy Pratt registered to vote on the proposed bus strike agreement at the Teamsters Union headquarters in Kalihi yesterday. At the check-in table were Eliza Dias and Mario Miguel.



Bus union OKs contract

Mechanics will get buses
ready to roll tomorrow
thanks to a contract ratified
by a 948-109 vote


TheBus will roll tomorrow for the first time in 34 days, after striking Teamsters approved a new contract yesterday by a 9-to-1 margin.



TheBus is back

>> Buses will run again at full service beginning at 4 a.m. tomorrow.

>> There is no charge to ride the bus tomorrow through Friday.

>> New fares take effect Saturday. They are $2 per ride for adults and $1 for youths, senior citizens and the disabled.

>> October bus passes are on sale at satellite city halls and other retail outlets. Costs are: $40 for adults, $20 for youths and $5 for seniors and the disabled.

>> Annual passes for seniors and the disabled will be $30. The city will announce this week how it will address senior citizen and disabled riders who have two-year bus passes.

>> People with annual bus passes may use them until they expire.

>> The city is working on a fare plan for low-income bus riders.

>> Bus pass holders who want a rebate for missed riding time during the strike can complete a form available at the nearest satellite City Hall, the Bus Pass Office at 811 Middle St., or online at www.co.honolulu.hi.us/dts/strike.

Forms must be submitted to the city Department of Transportation Services, Public Transit Division, at 650 S. King St., 3rd Floor, Honolulu 96813. Deadline to submit the forms is Nov. 30. Checks will be mailed to riders.



"The strike is over," Hawaii Teamsters and Allied Workers Local 996 President Mel Kahele said when he announced the 948-109 vote tally on the five-year pact.

Some bus mechanics will return to work today to ensure the 525-bus fleet is in working order for the 4 a.m. resumption of service tomorrow.

"I think we knew they wanted to come back and the overwhelming vote certainly shows that they did," Honolulu Transportation Director Cheryl Soon said. "We're delighted to have them return."

Soon said the city is hoping free rides tomorrow through Friday will also entice riders back to the buses. On Saturday, higher bus fares will take effect.

Other cities have seen ridership drop about 8 percent for as long as a year after strikes, Oahu Transit Services general manager Jim Cowen said.

The new contract guarantees no layoffs or reduction in benefits over its life and includes no pay raises over the first three years.

It offers a 50-cent-per-hour wage increase in the fourth year and a 65-cent increase the fifth year and increases employee pension contributions by 20 cents in each of the final three years.

Kahele admitted yesterday that it will take workers eight to ten years to recoup the pay they lost during the strike. But it was worth it to provide job security and health insurance benefits, he said.

"I like the proposal," driver Epi Mose said yesterday after casting his vote hall.

"Plenty people like to go back work," he said. "Most people thought the strike would be one or two days -- not over a month."

Some union members voting yesterday said they had worked other jobs or relied on savings to supplement the $250 a week in strike wages from the union.

One important point for some senior union members was the company's agreement to pay full medical benefits for workers qualified to take early retirement. As many as 90 employees could retire over the next five years, Kahele said.

OTS, the private company that runs TheBus system for the city, and the Teamsters union reached agreement on the five-year contract at a negotiating session on Thursday.

More than 1,300 drivers, mechanics and clerks have been on strike since Aug. 26.

At an informational meeting for union members before the vote yesterday, Ron Kozuma, Local 996 secretary-treasurer, reviewed why a strike had been called.

He said OTS originally proposed a three-year contract that would have reduced bus service, laid off 40 employees, offered no pay or pension increases, while taking away two holidays and long-term disability and reducing sick leave pay and cap medical insurance payments, Kozuma said.

The contract approved yesterday staved off all those things, he said.

Hairdresser Guss Esposo, who lives in Aiea and works downtown, said he'll be back on the bus tomorrow. He used the free city van service over the past month, but had to walk farther to get to it than to a bus stop.

"I don't even care if the pass is $50," he said. "What I care is that I have something to ride on."

Delores Bishop, 76, of Kaneohe praised the city for offering alternate rides during the strike, but is concerned about the fare increases passed by the City Council to generate $6.8 million to avoid cutbacks in bus services. "There are people who cannot afford the expense," she said.

Even after accounting for the $550,000 it cost to rent buses and vans for temporary ride services it provided, the city saved about $3 million over the course of the strike, Soon said. That money will be used to pay for the free week of rides and offset the expected drop in ridership, Soon added.


The Associated Press contributed to this story.



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