Friday, October 15, 1999

‘Safety first’ campaign
triggers dispute
at TheBus

The drivers' union claims that
one of its members is being
illegally disciplined

Star-Bulletin staff


If sparring between the company which runs Honolulu's city buses and the union representing its drivers is an indication, next year's contract talks will be a dogfight.

The parties are polarized over this month's service delays.

Oahu Transit Services claims the union is conducting a slowdown while Hawaii Teamsters Local 996 says it initiated its "Safety First" campaign on Oct. 1 to promote safe driving and draw attention to unrealistic time schedules drivers are required to maintain.

Fueling the dispute is that a driver with 18 years experience has been placed on "suspension for dismissal" while disciplinary action is pending against five others.

Mel Kahele and Ron Kozuma, the union's president and financial secretary-treasurer, respectively, said the actions were in retaliation for the "Safety First" campaign.

The union has filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board charging the company with harassment, intimidation and illegal discipline of employees.

"All we know is that he was suspended pending dismissal for initiating a slowdown," Kozuma said about the driver, who he says is well-trained and has a good work record.

James Cowen, president and chief executive officer of Oahu Transit Service and general manager of TheBus, said the driver will be terminated for rules violations that include giving false statements during a company investigation and insubordination, which occurred when he failed to perform an order given by a radio dispatcher.

"For the last seven years and 10 months, we have disciplined employees for just cause," Cowen said. "And in no case have we disciplined employees for the alleged slowdown."

The union is using its "Safety First" campaign to force the company to address drivers' concerns.

In a written statement, Kahele noted: "OTS tells its new hires of bus operators' priorities: first, drive safely; second, customer relations, and third, maintain your schedule.

"On the one hand, OTS is telling our drivers to drive safely, they are subject to discipline if they do not.

"On the other hand, OTS is telling the drivers they must maintain outdated schedules which have not been revised to accommodate the additional time needed to operate the wheelchair lift, the use of the bicycle rack by passengers and the general increase in traffic congestion over the last several years."

At a news conference yesterday, Kahele said the union is trying to make changes in the schedules.

Cowen disputes the union's claim about schedules.

"There's a procedure for drivers to come in and tell the schedule department how the schedule should be changed," Cowen said.

"And the truth is, there are some schedules that don't have enough time on them."

The union has scheduled a rally on Wednesday from 9:30-10:30 a.m. in front of the Middle Street bus facility to promote its "Safety First" campaign.


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