Judge Delays Decision On AC Transit Contract
Posted: 8:44 am PDT July 30, 2010Updated: 7:39 pm PDT July 30, 2010
OAKLAND, Calif. -- A judge said Friday that she won't rule until next week on an AC Transit employees' union's request to overturn a new contract that the bus agency imposed on its workers earlier this month.
When the old contract expired on June 30 after three months of talks failed to result in an agreement, the board of directors at AC Transit, which serves parts of Alameda and Contra Costa counties, voted to impose a new contract on members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192, which represents the bus agency's 1,750 employees, including 1,200 bus drivers.
The new contract took effect July 18.
However, on July 16, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch ordered AC Transit to enter into binding arbitration with ATU Local 192 to try to reach an agreement on a new contract.
The two sides have agreed on an arbitrator, but no new talks have been scheduled so far.
AC Transit's management says its goal in the new contract it imposed is to save $15.7 million in labor costs to help close a projected $56 million funding gap for the two year period ending in June 2011.
The district says it has taken other steps to reduce its budget gap in recent years by raising fares, reducing its service and cutting management positions.
ATU Local 192 lead negotiator Claudia Hudson said the union is asking Superior Court Judge Judith Ford, who presided over Friday's lengthy hearing because Roesch is on vacation, to issue an injunction against the new contract because it believes that the terms of the old contract must remain in place until arbitration is completed and there's a mutual agreement on a new contract.
Margot Rosenberg, an attorney for the union, said outside court that she thinks AC Transit's management "took a calculated risk" and imposed a new contract after Roesch didn't explicitly state in his July 16 ruling that it couldn't do so.
But Rosenberg said she believes that it is settled law that managements can't impose new contracts while negotiations are continuing.
However, the bus agency's lawyer, Raymond Lynch, said in legal papers, "AC Transit had no duty to maintain the terms of the expired contract."
At Friday's hearing, Lynch said, "There's nothing to preclude the district from imposing its last, best and final contract offer."
Rosenberg said it's hard to predict how Ford will rule but she said, "The judge is taking this matter very seriously" and wants to take time to review all the legal papers and relevant case law before issuing her decision.
Sam Singer, an outside spokesman for AC Transit, said if Ford issues an injunction to overturn the new contract, management "will seriously consider filing an appeal."
Singer said that if management has to revert to the old contract, it will lose $60 million in labor costs and would have to lay off employees and drastically reduce weekend service.
Alleging that bus drivers have been engaging in a "sickout" since the new contract was imposed, Singer said, "15 to 20 percent of the workforce has been missing every day."
He said, "That's a slap in the face to bus riders and taxpayers."
But Hudson denied that employees are engaging in a sickout, saying, "Our members are showing up for work every day.
About 50 bus drivers attended the court hearing Friday, packing Ford's courtroom and spilling out into the hallway.
Hours before hearing, AC Transit reported Friday that 15 percent of its work force had called in sick, forcing schedule changes on some bus routes.
When asked how they could take the time to attend the hearing, they said they used their personal time and vacation time, and said employees have split shifts in which they have long breaks between the morning and evening commute hours.
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