Bus talks
wait on Council

The union postpones
negotiations until tomorrow's
vote on bus fare increases

Union negotiators said they are postponing contract talks to end TheBus strike until the Honolulu City Council decides tomorrow whether to raise bus fares to offset a budget shortfall.

Bargaining resumed yesterday between negotiators from Oahu Transit Services, the company that runs TheBus for the city, and Local 996 of the Teamsters Union, but broke off after a little more than four hours.

During the face-to-face negotiations at the Neal Blaisdell Center, union officials said they rejected the latest 32-month counterproposal from OTS -- which called for no wage or pension increases during the length of the contract but with an option at the end of 32 months to reopen negotiations on pay raises.

"The company again is being unreasonable," said Local 996 President Mel Kahele. "They came out with a 32-month proposal, still zero, zero, zero. Even if they claim a reopener on the third year, it's still a zero, zero, zero in wages and pension.

"Again we came here to bargain. The company does not want to bargain and negotiate. So we decided on breaking up talks and coming back after City Council has their third hearing on Wednesday."

Tomorrow, City Council members expect to give final approval to a hike in bus fares that would cover a $6.8 million shortfall in the bus operating budget. The bill includes a plan that would give a break to low-income bus riders.

OTS officials said that while they agreed to take a break in the talks, what happens at the City Council tomorrow has no bearing on their position. In prior interviews, OTS chief negotiator Perry Confalone said that the company needed to get "labor costs under control."

"They may deem that (City Council hearing) relevant to their posture, but in our view we're just trying to reach an agreement and get this strike over as soon as possible," Confalone said. "The union has indicated that they are going to prepare a new proposal, and we look forward to receiving it."

Last week, Teamsters negotiators for the first time offered an extended five-year contract proposal instead of the three-year proposals that have been going back and forth between both sides since the strike started on Aug. 26.

That proposal included a wage freeze for the first year, a 50-cent wage increase for the second and third years, a 60-cent wage increase for the fourth year and a 65-cent wage increase for the fifth year.

In turn, OTS offered its own five-year counterproposal, which included wage freezes for the first and second year along with an agreement to renegotiate pay raises and pensions in the third year, and then a 1 percent pay increase the fourth year followed by a 1 1/2 percent pay increase the fifth year. Since then both sides have not released details about the 32-month proposal from OTS, which was rejected by the union yesterday, but have provided no other details.

"We had a counterproposal that unfortunately the union was not willing to accept," said Confalone. "But on a positive note the union is willing to try to work with us to reach an agreement."

Even so union officials are also concerned about the "reopener" clause that OTS has proposed in the third year of its contract proposals. Teamsters said though it enables both sides to speak about pay raises it also appears to reopen the door for the company to make labor cuts.

"It seems the term reopener means many things to the company," said Don Owens, an International Brotherhood of Teamsters communications specialist. "And that includes layoffs and cutbacks."

Today marks the 29th day of the strike that has sent bus workers to the picket lines and bus riders to find another way to get to work and school and make other daily commutes.

Talks at the Blaisdell are scheduled to resume at 10 a.m. tomorrow.


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