City bus workers fear
cuts to union benefits

Oahu Transit blames a lack of city funding
for an anticipated reduction in services

The union representing city bus drivers says Oahu Transit Services wants to cut public bus service as well as benefits for union members.

"We're not threatening the company with a strike, not any kind of work stoppage or slowdown," said Mel Kahele, president of Local 996 of the Hawaii Teamsters and Allied Workers. "We just want the company to be reasonable."

The union broke off contract talks yesterday. The union's contract with Oahu Transit Services expires June 30, and the two sides have met twice a week this month but "it seemed like we were getting nowhere," Kahele said.

Oahu Transit Services runs the bus system under contract with the city.

The company declined to discuss details of negotiations but said it is hamstrung by a shortage of money. The city's proposed budget for TheBus and Handi-Van service is $4.5 million less in the coming year than the current total of $136.5 million, according to Roger Morton, senior vice president of Oahu Transit Services.

"We anticipate this will result in some reduction in our service schedules," Morton said. "We're trying to do it without any layoffs, through attrition."

He said no decisions have been made about which routes would be affected, but the changes would mean less frequent service on marginal routes, rather than elimination of routes.

Kahele decried management proposals that he said would roll back benefits. He said the company is offering no wage increase and wants to reduce vacation days and holidays as well as require union members to make co-payments on medical coverage in addition to premiums. The union is holding the line on benefits and would accept wage increases of 2 percent a year if more money goes into the pension fund, he said.

Kahele said he hoped that the company would pressure the city to adequately fund the system, which has been named the nation's best.

"Until we figure out what the city is going to do, there probably will be no new negotiations," he said. But he added that the union plans to negotiate until the contract expires and even extend the contract if necessary to settle.

The union had raised the possibility of calling in a federal mediator, he said, but the company considers that premature at this point.

Nearly 1,400 Teamster members are covered by the contract, including bus drivers, maintenance crews, clerks and mechanics. The starting pay for bus drivers is $14.82 an hour, with the top wage at $21.17.


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