Bus drivers union
sets strike deadline
of Aug. 26

Union officials want Oahu
Transit Services to seek money
from the cash-strapped city

The union representing city bus drivers set a strike deadline of 12:01 a.m. Aug. 26, the day after the University of the Hawaii and most private schools start classes.

Hawaii Teamsters Union officials said the decision to call a bus strike came after a contract negotiation meeting yesterday in which Oahu Transit Services Inc. refused to ask the city for more money to avoid proposed cutbacks.

Oahu Transit Services, which runs TheBus under contract with the city, is proposing cutbacks to employee benefits and bus service because it received $4.2 million less from the city this year than last year. The union represents about 1,300 drivers, mechanics and clerks.

"OTS refused to even meet with a city official," said Mel Kahele, president of Local 996 of the Teamsters Union.

Kahele criticized Mayor Jeremy Harris' comments in his radio program earlier this week.

"It seems evident the mayor does not seem to care about the 240,000 passengers who ride the bus," he said at a press conference at the Blaisdell Center.

The city has prepared a backup plan in case of a strike, according to a Harris statement yesterday.

"No one wants a bus strike, but the city has prepared a strike contingency plan. Let's hope that cool heads prevail," Harris said.

The strike would happen the day after about 43,000 students return to school.

"We'll allow people to get to school on the first day," Kahele said.

Several bus riders at the Alapai Street bus stop yesterday evening were worried about a possible bus strike.

"We were panicking," said Sherrie Howard, 44, of Makiki, when she and her Waikiki co-workers first heard there might be a strike. "Two days, maybe we can get by, but not longer than that. I use the bus for work, and when I'm off, every day."

Many bus riders said they have not made contingency plans.

"It's going to be hard on me because I depend on public transportation," said downtown worker Gina Domingo, 36, of Waipahu. "I'll have to ask neighbors or friends or relatives for a ride."

Rich Allsopp, 35, a University of Hawaii professor who lives in Kapolei, either catches the bus or shares a car. "I'd probably have to buy a car, or maybe I'll just rent" if there is a strike, he said.

The union must give a 72-hour notice before it strikes, but yesterday's news conference came 26 days before the strike date.

The union wants to allow the city more time to prepare for the strike "for the sake of the passengers," Kahele said.

Kevin Shiosaki, who has worked for TheBus for nine years, said no one wants a strike but that a strike is worthwhile.

"Nobody deserves a handout but we work hard. We need our basic necessities," he said.

Some of the Oahu Transit Services proposals include no wage or pension increases for the next three years and a reduction in what the company pays for medical premiums, Kahele said.

Oahu Transit Services chief negotiator Perry Confalone said the company is willing to do "whatever it takes in matter of hours and effort to try to reach an agreement."

However, according to Kahele, the union will not go back to the bargaining table until the company goes to the City Council and requests more money.

The company does not plan to meet with city officials to advocate the union's position, Confalone said.

"It is the public policy-makers -- the elected officials -- who make the decision in terms of allocating scarce public dollars," Confalone said. "The union seems to be hinging a strike on something we can't do."



E-mail to City Desk


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2003 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --