PHX bus negotiations stalled, strike continues

Posted at 4:58 PM, Jan 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-08 20:35:41-05

A Phoenix bus drivers strike idling public transportation in the nation's sixth-largest city showed no signs of resolution Friday as negotiations hit an impasse.

Transdev, a city-contracted transit company, said the drivers union simply reintroduced the same demands from earlier in the week that would cost "millions of dollars." A federal mediator, as a result, called for a break in the negotiations in the afternoon.

"Transdev will continue to negotiate in good faith by keeping our very generous offer on the table, which is a 3 percent increase per year for 5 years, totaling almost 16 percent, with excellent benefits, on average wages of $56,000," the company said in a statement.

A spokesman for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433 did not immediately return multiple messages from The Associated Press seeking further comment.

The union rejected the company's "last and best offer" for a contract, according to Public Transit Department spokesman Lars Jacoby said. An additional 20 routes operated by another company are not affected, and neither is light rail service.

Union officials said sticking points in the negotiations include bereavement time and uniform allowances for the bus drivers, plus a tiered payment system and vacation time.

The transit department is working with Transdev to provide contingency service on the 27 bus routes that are shut down, Jacoby said. Delayed service has resumed on an additional seven, including one serving the championship game's venue, with frequency between buses of an hour or more.

Thousands of college football fans will pack the city leading up to Monday night's national championship game between Clemson and Alabama in suburban Glendale. However, relatively few of them are expected to take buses to the game, Jacoby said.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433 officials called for a midnight Friday walkout after contract talks stalled. But negotiations resumed in the morning.

"They push us out on strike so the union is the bad guy," union secretary Michael Cornelius told reporters before the morning meeting. "The operators are out there wondering whether or not they are going to be able to feed their kids. They don't get paid for strikes -- not one penny."

Transdev officials said they offered a fair contract providing a 3 percent annual wage increase retroactive to July, if accepted without a work stoppage. Talks began in April and resumed last month after a six-week hiatus.

"We are very disappointed that our operators are being instructed by ATU 1433 to strike," Transdev said in a news release. "Our focus now will shift in preparing to provide valley riders with the service they have come to expect."

Transdev's contract requires the company to run a reduced level of service, although doing so requires time for the company to get personnel trained and in place, Jacoby said.

In October, the most recent month for which data is available, Transdev served roughly 78,000 passengers on a given weekday. That is out of an average daily ridership of 123,000, Jacoby said.