Bus driver Danny Baron, left, with colleagues at the Middle Street depot yesterday, said he is eager to get back to work.

5-year contract
deal gives raises for
2 years, guarantees
no layoffs

Unionized bus workers are likely to ratify a five-year contract deal which guarantees no layoffs but also provides no raises until the last two years, local labor and mediation experts said.

Accord offers wage
and pension raises

Details from the five-year contract proposal that will be voted upon by unionized bus workers tomorrow include:
>> Pension contribution increases of 10 cents an hour every six months for the last three years of the contract beginning July 1, 2005 and ending June 30, 2008.

>> Wage increases of 25 cents every six months for the fourth year beginning July 1, 2006 and ending June 30, 2007.

>> Another wage increase totaling 65 cents for the length of the fifth year. The proposal breaks up the raise into a 30-cent increase for the first six months, followed by a 35-cent increase in the last six months.

>> No cutbacks of any benefits for any existing employee during the term of the collective bargaining agreements.

>> No layoffs for the term of the collective bargaining agreements.

>> The employer shall contribute an additional 5 cents an hour to the Supplemental Medical Retirement Plan in years two through four and 10 cents an hour in year five.

>> The deal is retroactive to July 1 and ends on June 30, 2008.

Rod Antone, Star-Bulletin

The 1,336 striking Teamsters are scheduled to vote tomorrow on the pact, reached early yesterday morning with Oahu Transit Services Inc.

When the strike began Aug. 26, workers sought no layoffs or cuts in benefits, and wage and pension increases in a three-year pact. OTS insisted there was no money for wage increases.

The deal reached yesterday guarantees no layoffs or benefit cuts for five years. Pension contribution increases start in the third year, while a wage freeze would end in the fourth year.

Labor experts say the proposal is probably the best bus workers could get under the circumstances, including a tight city budget and a recovering economy.

"I think it's a good agreement. I think they should vote for it," said attorney Michael Nauyokas, who specializes in labor mediation and arbitration. "Five years is good for both sides because it means labor peace for an intermediate period of time.

"This way, two and a half years from now they'll still be only halfway through the contract. That's a good thing for everybody," Nauyokas said.

Bill Puette, a professor of labor studies at UH-West Oahu, said the contract is a risk for OTS, the private company that runs TheBus for the city, because it extends the length of the usual two- to three-year labor agreement.

"You're gambling anytime you make a contract for more than two years," Puette said. "There are external forces which are unpredictable -- SARS, 9/11, hurricanes -- which could affect the economy."

Mayor Jeremy Harris echoed Puette's comments, saying that while the contract ensures that "the bus company doesn't have to go through this foolishness again for five years ... there's no way to know what the revenue picture will be like four to five years from now."

"Personally, I think the contract should have been a three-year contract with no pay raises," Harris said. "I think it totals around $4 million total over that two-year period.

"Of course, I won't be mayor and I really have no control nor say over how the city will fund those increases in the fourth and fifth year," he said.

Harris' term ends next year.

Bus workers have one more day on the picket line before tomorrow’s vote. Last night, Wendy Kalahele, from front, Pam Poaha and G.W. Lester walked the line at the bus company’s Middle Street facility.

Both Nauyokas and Puette said the proposal is aimed at protecting the status quo by "backloading" wage and pension increases toward the end of contract, which saves OTS money.

"Negotiations are about compromise," Puette said. "And it looks like both sides compromised to make this agreement happen."

Because this is the "last, best and final offer" from management, union officials said they must emphasize to their members tomorrow that if they reject the offer, there may be no immediate return to the bargaining table.

"'Last, best and final offer' means the company will unconditionally not move off this position," said Don Owens, a communication specialist the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the parent organization for the Teamsters Local 996. "If our members vote it down, we're still on strike and some sort of other resolution must be worked out."

Nauyokas said that union leadership has "to sell (the deal) to the membership, but I also think the membership's been out long enough that they have to get back to work.

"I don't think it's going to be a hard sell."

When she arrived at the Middle Street bus facility yesterday morning to walk the picket line, bus operator Pauahi Ioane got news about the tentative accord, which is up for ratification tomorrow. She also got a few snacks for her son, Joseph, 2, and daughter Hina, 11 months.

News of the company's offer brought mixed reviews from bus employees picketing at the Pearl City Transit Facility yesterday. Union members there rested in the shade and discussed the deal instead of walking the picket line.

Strike captain Joe Nuuanu said he had concerns about pension and medical benefits, but conceded, "At least we got something. We didn't get nothing.

"If they brought this to us earlier, we wouldn't have gone on strike."

Bus driver David Leong, a 28-year veteran, said he was looking forward to getting back to work after receiving calls from longtime passengers asking when they were going to return to the roadways.

"We appreciate them out there," Leong said. "So many people count on us and we count on them."

Star-Bulletin reporters Rosemarie Bernardo and Crystal Kua contributed to this story.


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