Those in need of transportation waited downtown yesterday for city-sponsored school buses on the first day of the Limited Stop Express Service.

Bus union agrees
to restart talks

An Oahu Transit Services letter
vows no layoffs if the city hikes
fares to raise $6.8 million

Striking bus workers and management plan to return to the bargaining table this afternoon, raising hopes that city buses could be back on the road today.

"Things are looking like there's going to be some movement," said Mel Kahele, president of Local 996 of the Teamsters Union.

Negotiators for the union and Oahu Transit Services Inc. are slated to meet at the Blaisdell Exhibition Hall in talks to end the strike by 1,400 bus workers that began Tuesday morning.

The City Council is crafting a bus fare increase proposal to raise $6.8 million to offset a shortfall in TheBus operating budget. Without the fare hike, cuts in bus service would likely lead to layoffs of 40 bus drivers.

The scheduling of the bargaining session came about after the union received a letter from James Cowen, OTS president and general manager, that said if the City Council passes legislation to raise bus fares by $6.8 million before Sept. 24, "there will be no service reductions and no layoffs. No workers will have any of their current benefits reduced."

OTS chief negotiator Perry Confalone said the letter was essentially a proposal for a "status quo" agreement.

"In other words, it's the agreement that just expired with new dates on it, contingent upon the City Council passing the appropriate legislation to fund the status quo agreement," he said.

The day began with both Mayor Jeremy Harris and Kahele calling in to the "Perry and Price" morning radio show on KSSK.

"Mr. Kahele again on (yesterday) morning's radio show reiterated the issue is not about (pay) increases, and he talked again about never being able to get a written assurance from the company OTS that there wouldn't be layoffs or cutbacks in benefits if the City Council passed the $6.8 million fare increase," Harris said in the afternoon.

The mayor said he would try to get the written guarantee from the company. By midafternoon the letter was sent to the union.

Harris said he believes the letter clears the way for an end to the strike.

"This letter should make it clear that the issue is not any perceived cutback in benefits, personnel or wages. That's off the table," Harris said.

Kahele discounted the mayor's role in getting negotiations jump-started again.

"The thing with Harris didn't get nothing rolling," Kahele said. "Jeremy Harris didn't do nothing for us. It was City Council."

City Council Chairman Gary Okino also gave assurances that the Council would find a way to fund the $6.8 million through bus fares.

"The Council is committed to finding the necessary revenues that will avoid the need to reduce bus service, which would in turn lead to layoffs of bus employees," Okino said. "This revenue-raising effort by the Council will also be done to eliminate the benefit reductions that the bus workers are concerned about."

Both Okino and Harris, however, said the city cannot afford pay raises, which the bus workers are also seeking.

"There will be no salary increases," Harris said. "There will be no increase in benefits for bus drivers because there's no money to pay for them, and that's not going to change in a month or three months or ever."

Okino, however, did not rule out the possibility of a pay raise in the future.

Today's bargaining session will be the first since talks broke down early Tuesday morning, prompting the first Oahu bus strike in more than 30 years.

"It wasn't about wages when we walked out," Kahele said yesterday, referring to what the union has called "take-backs" proposed by the company.

Kahele would not say whether the union would continue to press for a pay raise.

"I'm going to leave it up to our committee," he said. "We are going to recommend that we go back on the bargaining table, and we are looking at possibly making a big change again on our proposal."

He added: "Hopefully we can hammer out some of the issues in (the) afternoon's meeting, and we should be back to work Thursday. I'm not going to guarantee that, but hopefully we are."


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