Saturday, July 31, 2010
AC Transit dispute awaits judge's ruling
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Friday, July 30, 2010
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.
Click here to be connected to the AC Transit website and learn what Transbay Terminal Departures have been canceled.
Copyright 2010 by KTVU.com and Bay City News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Thursday, July 29, 2010
An MBTA bus driver accused of nearly hitting a child was cleared for duty after the agency found no proof the incident ever happened.
A passenger who had just stepped off the Route 1 bus with her daughter yesterday morning had reported to the T that the driver pulled out of the Massachusetts Avenue bus stop while they were still in the street, grazing her daughter’s backpack.
MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said surveillance footage from the bus “shows no evidence of an incident or an accident.” Pesaturo also said the footage showed the woman and her daughter were crossing the street illegally.
The driver was removed from service as the agency investigated the claim and was later reinstated, Pesaturo said.
The reinstatement came hours after WCVB (Ch. 5) aired a report that a woman it identified as Abigail Perez said her 10-year-old daughter was nearly hit.
“My daughter was literally right in front of the bus and it grazed her backpack,” Perez told the TV station.
Pesaturo said that the passenger, who did not request medical assistance, also reported that the driver was being rude. No other passengers reported anything “out of the ordinary,” he said.
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Monday, July 26, 2010
by Neil McFarlane, General Manager — last modified Jul 21, 2010 01:41 PM
As many of you know, contract negotiations with the ATU have been underway for the past several months. These negotiations are governed by a set of rules and protocols established by state law.
The negotiations between TriMet and the ATU have not resulted in an agreement. A mediator was selected to help the parties resolve their differences, but, unfortunately, the parties did not reach an agreement. A formal “impasse” has been declared, and both parties submitted their “Final Offer” to the Employment Relations Board (ERB) today and these offers are considered public documents.
Following the submittal of the “Final Offers”, it is important to keep in mind that there is still opportunity to continue negotiations, and for the parties to make modifications to their “Final Offers”. However, if no agreement is reached, both TriMet and the ATU will submit their last best offer packages to an arbitrator. The arbitrator will gather information and will select one of the proposals. At that point, the contract is final and binding upon the parties and is not submitted for an employee vote.
In addition to understanding the process, I want you to know my philosophy as we move forward with these final steps. The TriMet Board has outlined a policy statement which helps guide the agency’s negotiations to “bring TriMet’s health care and post employment benefits in line with a sustainable financial forecast of future TriMet revenues.” This will allow us to continue to fund high quality and cost effective transit service, now and in the future. It is my job to be the financial steward of the agency and work toward that sustainable structure.
It is no secret that continued escalation of health care costs will not provide the sustainable financial structure we need. TriMet’s total costs to cover all employee and retiree health care have more than doubled between FY03 and FY10. To maintain public support, we also must provide benefits that are in line with other government agencies.
I also believe that every employee deserves a living wage and high quality health care, and want to assure you that no matter what, we will still have among the highest quality benefits in our region and state.
The work and contribution of TriMet employees is the primary reason that our agency has been so successful. I am optimistic the process that we are now following will lead us to the proper balance of what’s right for our employees, our customers and our region.
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Sunday, July 25, 2010
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Thursday, July 22, 2010
TriMet has placed a bus operator on administrative leave after they determined a blog post about an interaction with a man on a bicycle that was published to his personal blog earlier today was inappropriate.
TriMet bus operator Dan Christensen -- a man known for his humor and writing talents who was just named one of Portland's 'Best People' by the Willamette Week --posted a story to his "TriMet Confidential" blog earlier today titled, "PORTLAND! KILL THIS BICYCLIST!"
The post -- which was just removed by Christensen a few minutes ago -- was made after he says he had a harrowing interaction with a man on a bike on SE Hawthorne Blvd. The post also included a photograph of the man riding the bike which was taken by one of Christensen's passengers. I was able to read the post before it was taken down. It was clearly labeled as a venting of Christensen's personal feelings, but the wording of the title and the tone and words of the actual post created an obvious problem for TriMet -- especially coming off the blog-related issues raised by bus operator Al Marguiles last month.
In addition, this blog post made it difficult for the community to understand how exactly Christensen felt about other people riding bicycles (many people read the post after it was sent around via Twitter). Was he just letting off some steamm? Or was this window into his personal feelings an imminent threat to public safety?
After learning about the post from a reader, I emailed the link to TriMet spokesperson Mary Fetsch to see if she had a response. Here's what she sent back:
"Once we learned of this post, we immediately placed the operator on administrative leave. It is a very serious matter. We are also referring this to the police and DA."
According to Christensen's account, the interaction happened on SE Hawthorne between SE 20th and 40th. (There's no bike lane on this portion of the street, traffic volumes and speeds are high, and there's on-street car parking. It's also just a few blocks from where a now infamous bus/bike interaction occurred just last month).
Here are the final two paragraphs of the post:
Attention Fool: When you interacted with my bus you put your life in my hands. At that time I took extreme measures to avoid crushing you despite your best effort to get under my tires. However as a holder of your life I wish to exercise that option now that I’m not behind the wheel. Thank you for putting your faith and trust in my skill, perception and reaction time however I think I’m going to now exercise your life in my hands options and have you killed. Thank you for putting your trust in my training and my willingness to throw people around my bus by violently breaking. However as a holder of your life I think now after long hours of contemplation I shall exercise the death option.
In closing I would like to say that though I can only keep my fingers crossed and hope that someone out there takes me up on my plea, I will be lucky and blessed if someone does. This I can assure you, People often get what’s coming to them, when you get what’s coming to you as a result of your carelessness I will rejoice as should every bicyclist you shame and motor vehicle operator you ever encountered.
It's not clear what exactly led to the incident Christensen wrote about, but it apparently left him physically trembling and very shaken up unlike anything he's every experienced in his driving career. From the post, the man on the bike showed a wanton disregard for his own or anyone else's safety as he rode down Hawthorne.
Before removing the post entirely, Christensen published an update to try and clarify where he was coming from. "Just so you know, I'm not against bikes. Love em. Own one..." he writes. "This rage is at one person and everyones [sic] mission should be to stop him not matter what you ride, drive, hop or sail."
It was clear to me that Christensen's blog post was more an emotional and literary exercise than a sincere proclamation of anger -- but that's due in part because I know him. I know he's a talented writer and that he's often candid about his experiences while operating his bus (you might remember him from back in 2008 when he reached out to the community on the Rose Quarter Transit Center bikeway project). However, not everyone is aware of that context and as we've explored countless times on this site, people are understandably very sensitive about the emotions that can lead to road rage and they need to be taken very seriously, especially when the person expressing the feelings operates a large vehicle and is under the employ of an agency like TriMet.
Given that TriMet is still recovering from the tragic collision in downtown Portland back in April that claimed the life of two people who were walking in a crosswalk and that they've just announced new, more stringent safety policies after new GM Neil McFarlane said safety is the agency's highest priority, it's not surprising they erred on the side of swift action with Christensen.
This is an unfortunate situation all around and should serve as a reminder that our behavior out on the roads -- from both sides of the windshield -- can have a huge impact on others.
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Thursday, July 15, 2010
BANGOR, Maine -- A Greyhound bus driver from Massachusetts charged with robbing an Orono bank on Tuesday is being investigated in connection with 10 other bank robberies around New England, according to the FBI.
Robert Ferguson, 47, of Lowell, Mass., made his first appearance late Wednesday afternoon in federal court. He was taken into custody early Wednesday morning after an employee at the Days Inn on Odlin Road in Bangor called police at 12:18 a.m. to report that a man matching the bank robber's description was staying at the motel.
The bus driver was arrested about 8 a.m. Wednesday and charged with bank robbery after being interviewed by local police and the FBI, according to a court affidavit written by FBI Special Agent James Herbert.
The FBI also is probing 10 robberies involving an unidentified suspect dubbed the "burly bandit," described as a white male with short brown hair in his late 40s or early 50s, approximately 6 feet tall and weighing 250 to 300 pounds.
The burly bandit has worn sunglasses, a wig and a variety of hats, including a straw cowboy hat, during the rash of robberies that have occurred in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Hampshire since April, according to the FBI. The most recent burly bandit holdup was at the Ocean Bank in Merrimack, N.H., on July 2.
The FBI in Boston has offered $20,000 reward for information that could lead to his arrest and conviction in connection with the bank robberies throughout New England.
"We're trying to determine if this Orono bank robber has any connection to what we've dubbed the burly bank robberies down here," said FBI Special Agent Gail A. Marcinkiewicz, who is based in Boston.
On Wednesday in Bangor, U.S. Magistrate Judge Margaret Kravchuk ordered Ferguson held without bail at the Penobscot County Jail until Monday, when he is due back in U.S. District Court in Bangor for a bail hearing. That hearing might not take place if warrants from other states are issued for Ferguson's arrest.
The defendant appeared shoeless in his stocking feet before the judge on Wednesday. He also was wearing a pair of dark blue nylon shorts and a black T-shirt with a white skull and crossbones emblazoned on the front. Authorities declined to explain why Ferguson was not wearing shoes.
Through his court-appointed attorney, Jon Haddow of Bangor, Ferguson asked that his medication for bipolar disorder be sent to the jail. Kravchuk told the federal marshals who are responsible for transporting Ferguson to the jail to get his medication for him from the belongings seized from his motel room.
Ferguson, who was described to authorities as a regular guest of the motel, reportedly checked in about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday. He then took a cab to the U-Haul store in Bangor, according to the affidavit. The same man returned the truck about 3:40 p.m. and took a cab back to the Day's Inn.
A man -- described as being white, 6 feet tall, between 30 and 40 years old, weighing approximately 250 pounds, and wearing a gray T-shirt, bluejeans and a dark baseball cap -- walked into the Bangor Savings Bank branch on Park Street in Orono around 3 p.m. Tuesday.
He went into the office of a customer service representative and said he had a complaint, according to the affidavit. Ferguson allegedly told the woman that he had a two-way radio that was being monitored by a friend outside and that if she did anything wrong "he would start shooting and his friend would come into the bank and also start shooting."
The robber allegedly told the woman to empty out all the teller drawers and handed her a blue nylon bag. After bank employees filled the bag with money from the drawers, Ferguson allegedly took the bag and left on foot, heading down Park Street toward Old Town.
A blue bag containing cash was found in an electrical panel inside the bottom storage area of the bus Ferguson drove from Boston to Bangor, according to the affidavit. Neither the amount of money taken in the robbery nor the amount recovered from the bus was released by authorities.
Several witnesses told police they saw a U-Haul truck parked along the street near the bank. In addition, a man who works for U-Haul and the University of Maine told police he recognized the U-Haul parked on the corner of Rangeley Road and Park Street, which is not far from the bank, as one in the fleet of trucks at the Ban-gor rental store adjacent to the Joshua Chamberlain Bridge. He said he saw the U-Haul on Tuesday afternoon on his way to work at the university, according to the affidavit.
Video surveillance cameras at the U-Haul store show Ferguson wearing a different-colored shirt and "carrying a dark colored bag" when he returned the rented vehicle, according to the affidavit.
Whether Tuesday's robbery is connected to others involving the "burly bandit" was unknown Wednesday, Orono police Capt. Josh Ewing and the FBI's Marcinkiewicz said.
"There was a lot of information coming in that he resembled this burly bank robber," Ewing said.
The motel clerk, witnesses and the hard work of all the law enforcement agencies involved led to Ferguson's swift arrest, according to Ewing.
"We had a lot of great assistance in this case," he said. "This was a really good joint operation with the FBI and Bangor."
Ewing also thanked officers from the University of Maine, Old Town, Veazie, Maine State Police and other local agencies.
The bank robbery in Orono is the second time Bangor Savings Bank has been robbed in the last week. The downtown Bangor branch was robbed on July 6. Matisha Pitts, 25, of Bangor was arrested shortly after leaving the Bangor bank and is being held without bail at the Penobscot County Jail.
If convicted, Ferguson and Pitts face up to 20 years in federal prison and fines of up to $250,000. Both also could be ordered to pay restitution.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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