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Thursday, September 21, 2000

TheBus gears up for strike

Officials say riders should start
planning alternate transportation
in the event of a strike by
drivers as early as Sunday

By Russ Lynch

The operators of Oahu's public bus system warned riders today to prepare for a possible strike by Teamsters Union drivers as early as Sunday.

The union handed OTS negotiators a 72-hour strike notice at 2 a.m. today, after an unsuccessful negotiating session that lasted all day and through the night.

A meeting was scheduled for tomorrow between representatives of the union, Teamsters Local 996, and the company, Oahu Transit Services Inc. A federal mediator will sit in for the first time.

But Oahu Transit said that the estimated 240,000 daily riders of TheBus system should start planning now for alternative ways to get to their destinations.

Union leaders, representing about 1,300 unionized bus workers, were meeting with drivers late this morning and were not available for comment. However, a union source confirmed that the strike notice was issued.


Bullet Daily ridership: About 240,000 on weekdays
Bullet Number of buses: 525
Bullet Union employees: About 1,300, including 900 drivers
Bullet Strike deadline: 2 a.m. Sunday
Bullet At issue: The union rejected pay raises of 2 percent from July 1, 2.5 percent next July 1 and 2 percent on July 1, 2002. Management says it has since offered more. Talks are ongoing.

It means that a strike could begin any time after 2 a.m. Sunday and if there is a walkout, all fixed-route bus services will stop, OTS said in a news statement issued late this morning.

James E. Cowen, president and general manager of OTS, said the company is willing to keep on talking to the union, as it did in bargaining sessions Friday, Monday and yesterday and he urged the union to rescind the strike notice and find another way of resolving the dispute.

He said the company has made higher offers than were on the table when the union rank and file rejected a tentative settlement in July but the company's proposals "are still far from current union demands."

"It would be unfortunate if these talks broke down without agreement but given the scale of the union demands, that remains a possibility," Cowen said.

The union has not made public its latest demands.

"We pledge to work toward an agreement but it is a good time for bus riders and local companies to consider what they would do in the event of a work stoppage," Cowen said.

Workers should be looking for ways to share rides with fellow workers, friends or family to share rides, he said. Parents should start planning other ways for their children to get to school and taxi companies should plan to get more cars on the road.

Handi-Van employees are also represented by the Teamsters but are covered by a separate contract and the union has assured OTS that the service will not be affected, Cowen said.

OTS operates the Oahu bus system under a large subsidy from the city. Cowen said employee wages and benefits make up about 75 percent of the $100 million annual budget for TheBus.

The tentative settlement that was reached by negotiators in July and then rejected by the rank and file called for wage hikes over three years totaling 6.5 percent, pension increases and a number of other new or increased benefits, the company said.

"We think the union's decision to issue a strike notice is not justified by the situation," Cowen said. "We felt substantial progress was being made in the new round of negotiations that began only one week ago."

On July 27, nearly 60 percent of TheBus employees voted against the three-year-contract settlement proposal that was supported by their own negotiators. Entry-level bus drivers have been earning $13 an hour, while senior drivers earn about $19 an hour.

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