Orange County Transit Strike: Bus Service Resumes for Two Days
Strike "Could Resume at Any Time" But Union Promises Service for Election Day
Last Thursday, maintenance workers with the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) went on strike shutting down the more than fifty bus lines that OCTA runs. While the transportation agency and the union have not made much headway on the issues causing the impasse (the workers are demanding higher wages, lower healthcare costs, and an increase in retirement benefits); maintenance workers returned to work, for at least two days, to make sure there is normal access to the polls on election day.
Both union leaders and OCTA board members concede that it is likely the strike will begin anew on Wednesday morning. Talks between the two sides resumed over the weekend, and are ongoing today. OCTA also warns riders that service will not be completely restored during this two day stay, due to maintenance backlogs from the four day strike. OCTA has taken an aggressive tone with the striking Teamsters union, calling their work stoppage “unfair to riders.”
“We hope that there will be no further disruption in service and that we can work this out without affecting the people that count on OC Bus to get to work, school and other important destinations,” said OCTA Chairman and Orange Mayor Mark Murphy, in a written statement.
Maintenance workers have been working on an expired contract since the end of September. A strike was delayed when Governor Gavin Newsom urged both sides to negotiate without a strike. The union claims OCTA negotiators walked away from the bargaining table last Monday necessitating the strike, while OCTA says they offered a fair plan that was unilaterally rejected. OCTA leadership has reached out to Newsom to ask him to use his emergency powers to end the strike, but the agency concedes that the governor is unlikely to step in in the near future.
“We have done everything in our power to avoid a strike. They have even rejected our proposals that would save them money on members’ health care. But when OCTA walked away from the table on Monday, they gave us no other choice.” Teamsters Local 952 Secretary-Treasurer Eric Jimenez said in a statement announcing the strike.
The major sticking point between the two sides seems to be the healthcare issue. Both bus drivers and maintenance workers are represented by the Teamsters, but get very different health benefits. The maintenance workers receive subsidized insurance through the union, while the drivers receive full health care through OCTA. OCTA doesn’t want to pick up the cost of insurance through the Teamsters, but seems willing to offer the same benefit offered to the drivers. The maintenance workers don’t want to switch insurance. ABC 7 does a great job of breaking down the sticking points over insurance, wages and other benefits.
Like many California transportation agencies, OCTA operates transit bus service, while also expanding freeways in its countywide service area. While funding for salaries and benefits remain a point of contention, the agency still has plenty of funding available for multiple billion+ dollar highway expansion projects.