At the Kalihi Transit Station office yesterday, TheBus employees Sivanu Maulupe, left, Carol Ohelo, Brenda Fischer and Bonnie Figueroa counted votes to authorize a strike by bus employees.

TheBus workers
endorse a strike

Teamsters authorize a walkout
that would affect an estimated
240,000 daily riders

City bus drivers and other union members overwhelmingly authorized a strike, Teamsters Local 996 President Mel Kahele said last night.

With the strike authorization union officials said a walkout could occur anytime in the next two to three weeks. However, the union said it would issue a 72-hour strike notice.

Teamsters officials hope the strike vote results send a strong message to Oahu Transit Services and the city. OTS runs the bus system under contract with the city.

"If OTS needs more money," said Kahele during a news conference yesterday, "then we urge OTS to request for more moneys so we can fix the shortfall for this fiscal year.

"I ask that the city officials and our politicians out there address the current problem that we are looking at."

An estimated 1,144 Teamsters members voted "yes" to authorize a strike while 51 members voted "no," the union said. More than 1,400 Teamsters work at OTS including maintenance crews, bus drivers, clerks and mechanics.

OTS officials said yesterday that they would hold a news conference today to answer questions about the strike vote.

Kahele said the company is asking the union to agree to cutbacks in benefits to deal with a budget shortfall, including eliminating two holidays, zero wage or pension increases for the next three years and a reduction in what the company pays for medical premiums. Company officials have said previously that the city's proposed budget for TheBus and Handi-Van Service is $4.5 million less this year than last year's $136.5 million.

Yesterday, after the strike vote was counted, Kahele asked that company officials balance their budget with money from the city, and not from their employees.

"The membership has spoken and we're not going to accept any of the company's takebacks," said Kahele. "I urge city officials, the city administration to call OTS and get this problem fixed."

Union officials estimate that 240,000 people ride the bus daily.

Ewa Beach resident Rosalinda Guillermo said she catches the bus from home to Aala Park, then to Salt Lake every day to go to work. "I cannot go anywhere," she said, after hearing that a bus strike was possible.

Moanalua Gardens resident Reynaldo Bilan, 50, said he has been riding the bus "ever since I was born."

"I used to ride it to the Ilikai because I was a cook there," he said. "Now I just go into town and cruise.

"I guess if they strike I gotta hang out at home."

Ben Tibas, who has been driving a bus for 21 years said, "We don't want to leave people stranded. We want their respect ... but we also want our pension plan.

"Because the company wants to take away so many things, we have to go on strike."

Other union members said they just want to stay employed, like Warren Lee Albete, a husband and father of two daughters who graduated from the latest class of bus driver trainees in March.

"I'm still on probation, if they cut any positions I'll definitely be one of them," said Albete. "And I love it, I love working with the people.

"But I gotta fight for what we can get, otherwise I might have to look for another job."

Negotiations on a new three-year contract began on May 6, but the union broke off negotiations a few weeks later. Union members have been working on day to day extensions since the contract expired June 30.

Kahele said Teamsters negotiators and OTS officials are scheduled to go back to the table tomorrow.

Honolulu's longest bus stoppage was for 68 days in 1967, when the Teamsters' Union walked out against Honolulu Rapid Transit Ltd., a state-regulated public utility.


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