Bus Strike Day 22: Teamsters Reject Latest Sun Tran Proposal, Wonder When City Will Intervene

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MARIA INÉS TARACENA
  • Maria Inés Taracena

The Teamsters Local 104 has said no to Sun Tran's latest offer, and even called it a "worse proposal" than the one originally rejected by the 530 bus drivers and mechanics, who are now entering a fourth week on strike.

This new offer was presented to the Teamsters Wednesday by the federal mediator on behalf of Sun Tran. The union says it still doesn't address mold contamination issues or safety concerns—and the wage and benefits proposal went from bad to terrible.

From the Teamsters:
The total money being offered in year 1 has been reduced from $0.54, which was divided between Pension, Health & Welfare, an additional Holiday, and a $0.50 raise to new hires, to $0.42, which is in the form of an hourly pay increase for each employee.The total money being offered in year 2 has been reduced from $0.39, which was divided between Pension, Health & Welfare, an additional Holiday, and a $0.50 raise to new hires, to $0.24, which is in the form of an hourly pay increase for each employee.The total money being offered in year 3 has been reduced from $0.39, which was divided between Pension, Health & Welfare, an additional Holiday, and a $0.50 raise to new hires, to $0.24, which is in the form of an hourly pay increase for each employee.
Throughout these 22 days of strike, the union says Sun Tran, as well as the city of Tucson, have saved more than $2 million in wages and pension, as well as $750,000 in fuel costs. Merely nine out of 43 bus routes are running in a very limited schedule, and none of the employees picketing are getting paid while they're out there.

"It is unconscionable and unacceptable that the City of Tucson and SunTran are refusing to utilize every penny of the $2.75 million in savings that have been realized on the backs of the striking employees and the stranded passengers, to help settle this strike," a press release from the Teamsters says.

 They're left to wonder, when is the city going to intervene? They're not buying the, "by law, we cannot get involved" excuse they've been hearing throughout. 

The City of Tucson hired Professional Transit Management (a branch off of Transdev, which is based in France) to oversee Sun Tran. In the Teamsters' words: PTM works for the Tucson Department of Transportation; that department works for, and is directed by, the city manager; the city manager works for, and is directed by, the mayor and the Tucson City Council. And who elects the mayor and council? The citizens of Tucson do. 

"It doesn’t get any clearer than that. Council members Cunningham, Uhlich, Romero and Fimbres have all expressed their opinion that they are hopeful that a fair settlement can be reached between Sun Tran and the Teamsters, however, that is the extent of their involvement," the press release says. "The Mayor and Council have repeatedly stated that they are prohibited by law from getting involved in the negotiations and cite a legal opinion that has been issued in the past by the City Attorney. That legal opinion is just that, an opinion, and frankly it is an opinion that is open to dispute."

To the union, despite any "legal opinion," Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and the City Council "bear the responsibility" to direct City Manager Michael Ortega and the transportation department to do what it takes to ensure that PTM negotiates in "good faith," and reaches "a fair and equitable settlement of the Sun Tran strike."

Also, Sun Tran’s Aug. 26 proposal was accompanied by a letter from General Manager Kate Riley...in which "she proposes discussing a revenue sharing opportunity with the union negotiating committee. That proposal would share a maximum of 25 percent of any farebox revenue over the last three years average of approximately $12 million annually," the Teamsters say. "Ms. Riley states that one way to increase revenue is to increase ridership. Yet Ms. Riley has clearly demonstrated that her preferred methods of increasing revenue are to raise fares while at the same time reducing service."

The Teamsters, alongside the Tucson Bus Riders Union, have been in an ongoing fight to keep Sun Tran's fares at their current rates, while also saving all bus routes and schedules. They argue that scratching bus routes and spiking fares will only harm those who rely on Sun Tran the most—people who don't make much money.

"Year after year, residents of the Tucson metro area are forced to deal with the fact that Sun Tran management claims that they don’t have enough money to operate the bus system without eliminating service on selected routes and raising fares and that they don’t have enough money to offer Sun Tran employees a fair contract, one that they can vote to accept rather than reject by a margin of 363 no to 4 yes votes," the union says in the press release.

Meanwhile, as of Saturday, Aug. 29, Sun Tran is going to provide limited Saturday service from about 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on three routes:
Route 8 – Serving Broadway, connecting passengers to Park Place Mall, Reid Park, St. Joseph’s Hospital, El Con and Downtown

Route 16 – Serving Oracle/Ina, connecting passengers to Tucson Mall, Casas Adobes Plaza, Foothills Mall, Nanini Library and Downtown

Route 18 – Serving South 6th Avenue, connecting passengers to El Pueblo Neighborhood Center, Veteran’s Hospital, South Tucson and Downtown
“We are pleased to announce that Saturday service will now be available to passengers as we continue to work with the federal mediator to set up a meeting with Teamsters Local Union 104 representatives to return to the negotiating table,” said a statement to the media by Riley. “Sun Tran continues to strive to provide as much service as we can, with the resources we have available.”

More than 60,000 rely on Sun Tran to get to work or school, and they've been left scrambling for other transportation options.

(For a full recap on the strike's background, check out my article from last week.)

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