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Friday, September 22, 2000

Bus negotiators

Some say the proposed
bus strike is related to the
election; the city begins
laying plans to ease traffic

Longest bus strike was 68 days

By Suzanne Tswei
and Harold Morse

Both sides expressed confidence a bus strike that could strand 240,000 Oahu commuters could be avoided as management and the union began meetings with a federal negotiator this morning.

But Teamsters Local 996 president Mel Kahele emphasized that his members are ready to go out on strike as early as Sunday if there is no progress on wages and other issues.

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Mel Kahele, the Teamsters Local 996 president,
says union members are ready to strike if there
is no progress on issues

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Perry Confalone, attorney for the bus company,
says "reasonable minds will prevail"

Kahele said about 400 picket signs have already been printed and that the union membership is unhappy with the last offer from Oahu Transit Services, Inc., the company that runs TheBus.

About 175 drivers attended a meeting last night at the local's headquarters in Kalihi at 1817 Hart St. Details on flyers showed differences of up to 20 cents an hour on wages and up to 31 cents an hour on pension contributions between company and union proposals.

In negotiations that lasted until 2 a.m. yesterday, the union demanded a 60-cent-an-hour wage increase for three years and a 40-cent-an-hour pension increase, said Roger Morton, bus operations manager. Transit officials offered 40-cent to 50-cent wage increases and 15-cent to 20-cent pension increases.

Before today's negotiations, OTS negotiator Perry Confalone told reporters he was "optimistic" about a settlement.

"I believe reasonable minds will prevail," he said.

James Cowen, president and general manager of OTS, said he believes the strike notice was connected to the upcoming election but declined to elaborate. "I am really getting wary trying to figure out (the union leadership's) mentality."

The Hawaii Teamsters and Allied Workers Local 996, which represents the 1,300 drivers and other employees of TheBus, endorsed former City Councilman Mufi Hannemann for mayor.

"This has nothing to do with politics," said Millie Downey, Local 996 business representative.

The union and OTS had reached a tentative accord on a three-year contract in July, but nearly 60 percent of TheBus employees voted against it.

Kahele said "it would be suicide" for him to accept the last management offer.

City Transportation Director Cheryl Soon said city officials were making emergency plans in case there was a strike. Handi-Van service, whose workers are covered by a separate contract, would not be affected.

The city would be setting up a hot line to provide up-to-date information and looking for ways to reach bus riders who may not be getting their daily news from newspapers and television news broadcasts.

"The Filipino population in Waipahu uses the bus system a lot," Soon said. "We'll need to find better means to communicating with them so nobody is stranded." The city plans to keep the Filipino-speaking riders informed with announcements on Filipino-language radio stations, she said.

The city would be curtailing street constructions, banning on-street parking, extending no-parking zones and hours of coning in an effort to free up roadways for vehicles, Soon said. The city also would be working with large employers to encourage telecommuting and adjustment of workers' schedules to ease traffic, she said.

Some of the biggest employers in Honolulu, such as First Hawaiian Bank, Queen's Medical Center and Verizon Hawaii, said a substantial number of their workers ride TheBus. Many companies, like First Hawaiian and Bank of Hawaii, were still discussing internal plans this morning in case a strike occurs.

The city also is looking into existing programs, such as an Oahu database for car-pooling and the state Vanpool service, and contacting taxi and tour companies that could provide for alternative transportation, Soon said. The city has asked the state to check its Vanpool inventory for available seats, she said.

Pat Hamamoto, deputy superintendent of the state Department of Education, said parents and students are expected to make contingency plans in case of a strike. Hamamoto expects that more parents and grandparents will be dropping their children off.

"The expectation is that the students will (still) come to school," she said. Individual schools will be able to make allowances for late students, she said.

Glenn Okimoto, acting state transportation director, said the state will cooperate with the city to help ease traffic problems in case of a strike. But Okimoto said the state can do little, other than synchronizing traffic signals to help traffic flow.

Bus rider Doc Kaneakua said, "It's going to mess up my life."

Kaneakua's reaction was echoed by other commuters yesterday at the Alapai Street bus terminal.

"They should pay them the money and get it over with," said Kaneakua, who commutes from Waianae to a job at Ala Moana. "They (the city) just spent all that money in Waikiki; they can afford it."

Star-Bulletin reporter Mary Adamski
contributed to this report.

Longest stoppage
halted buses
for 68 days

Star-Bulletin staff

Honolulu's longest bus stoppage was for 68 days in 1967, when the Teamsters Union walked out against the then-operator of the bus, a state-regulated public utility, Honolulu Rapid Transit Ltd. A new contract raised drivers' pay to $3.25 an hour from $2.95.

Contract negotiations came up again three years later, and the Teamsters walked out again. Although their strike technically lasted for months, the actual work stoppage lasted for less than two months because then-Mayor Frank Fasi had the city take over the buses and replaced the old bus system.

Since then, the city has subsidized the service and contracted out, under bid, with management firms to operate it as a heavily public-subsidized system.

MTL Inc., made up of former HRT executives, ran the system from 1971 until the present operator, Oahu Transit Systems Inc., took over in January 1992.

Teamsters Local 996

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