No bus settlement
despite 6-hour session

The breakdown occurs on
a day the union takes out ads

Bus union negotiators rejected a request from management last night that strikers return to work until December during a "cooling-off period," according to company officials.

Both sides walked away from the bargaining table at Neal Blaisdell Center conference rooms before 8 p.m., about six hours after talks started yesterday.

No new talks are scheduled.

Union officials would not answer questions afterward and said only that the two sides are no closer to a deal to end the strike, which enters its 17th day today.

"Apparently we tried to meet and try settle this strike, and apparently there's been no progress," said Teamsters Local 996 President Mel Kahele. "We did try to make some changes on our proposal; the company made no movement on theirs."

Oahu Transit Services Inc. officials said that under their proposal, employees would immediately come back to work and resume service for 90 days while both sides continue to try to reach a resolution.

"We would have welcomed them with open arms as soon as possible and continue negotiations," said OTS chief negotiator Perry Confalone. "The union unfortunately rejected that."

Last night's talks marked the fifth time that both sides have met since the islandwide bus strike started just after midnight Aug. 26.

During yesterday's negotiations, some yelling could be heard by union members in the conference room.

"There's frustration in there, and we certainly sympathize with that frustration and we can understand that," Confalone said.

Confalone said another company proposal consisted of a three-year contract with no increases in wages or pensions for the first two years and a provision to reopen negotiations on pensions and benefits during the third year.

Ever since the strike started, former bus riders have had to scramble to find rides to work and classes and other daily destinations. There has been some backlash from residents who complained that it was wrong for the union to push for wage increases during tough economic times.

To counter that, union officials took out television and newspaper ads yesterday to explain their position.

While the television ads talked about bus employees fighting for "benefits for the rest of our lives," the newspaper ad pointed out that while bus drivers may make more money in five years than police officers, firefighters and public school teachers, they hit a ceiling and cannot get paid more money.

"After five years they're (bus drivers) making $44,000 ... after 30 years they're making $44,000," said Teamsters attorney Michael Chambrella. "We just want to set the record straight because there's a misconception that the bus drivers are making more."

In the same ad, the union also criticizes $375,000 in "management fees" paid to the two top OTS managers.

In their defense, Mayor Jeremy Harris said OTS President James Cowen and Senior Vice President Roger Morton are not overpaid.

Harris said Cowen makes $99,807 a year and Morton $94,554 a year and that their salaries are only raised when city department heads get a raise.

Compared with bus managers in other cities, who make anywhere from $103,000 to $226,0000, the two OTS executives are some of the lowest paid in the country, Harris said.

Besides the two executive salaries, the $375,000 OTS receives for its management contract to run the city's bus system pays for expenditures that include $20,000 each for employee appreciation day, an employee Christmas party and employee travel to participate in a national transportation rodeo competition.

"They spend a lot on their employees," Harris said.

Teamsters members are "handsomely paid" in salaries and benefits when compared with city employees who do the same work, the mayor said.

"I urge the Teamsters to recognize they have a good contract," Harris said.


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