All Orange County bus services in Orange County could be suspended Monday after maintenance workers voted this week to strike.
The strike is expected to begin 12:01 a.m. Monday, according to a news release from Local 952, which represents about 9,500 members. The union said it voted to strike Wednesday, after the Orange County Transportation Authority “refused to address key health and welfare issues” and offered a “substandard final contract offer.”
About 150 mechanics, service workers and machinists with the OCTA have been working under an expired contract since Sept. 30, according to the union. Negotiations began May 25, and the union has met with OCTA more than 20 times.
The OCTA warned bus passengers Wednesday to plan alternative ways of travel Monday, according to an agency news release. Another meeting is scheduled for this weekend “with the hope of resolving contract negotiations and avoiding any disruptions to bus service,” OCTA officials said.
“We know that any interruption in bus service hurts the people in our community who rely on OC Bus to get where they need to be, whether that’s jobs or to school,” said Mark Murphy, OCTA chairman and mayor of Orange, in the statement. “That’s why we want to avoid a strike. There’s no reason we can’t continue negotiating to reach a resolution without putting the burden on bus passengers.”
The union has accused OCTA of not bargaining in good faith and giving the members a “last, best and final offer” on Sept. 22, giving them “no time to respond,” according to the Local 952 news release. After its offer was rejected, OCTA agreed to meet the following week for four days but then canceled those meetings except for one, the union said.
Eric Carpenter, a spokesperson for OCTA, confirmed the agency is meeting with the union again Sunday to continue negotiations. In the event of a strike, OCTA employees have volunteered to go out to transit centers and the busiest bus stops to let passengers know about the disruption, he said.
Eric Jimenez, secretary-treasurer for Local 952, criticized OCTA for not signing an extension agreement that would retroactively apply wage and benefits increases to union members, allowing them to keep bargaining past the expiration date.
“Every day we go without an extension, our members are losing money,” he added.
Union members are hoping for improved healthcare packages, that would allow them to pay less money out-of-pocket. Jimenez said some members currently pay $350 a month for healthcare and that the new plan proposed by OCTA would result in a jump to $400-$500 in costs to employees in the next two years or so.
The union is also bargaining for higher wages and pensions for members, who haven’t seen an increase since 2009, according to Jimenez. He said members are willing to strike for as long as it takes for the company to “come to the table and negotiate fairly and stop stonewalling us.”
“They’re saying to the public, ‘we worry about you and we care about your safety,’ but this time around, they don’t want to take care of the very people that take care of these buses,” Jimenez said.
Carpenter declined to comment on the specifics of the contract, saying that the agency doesn’t “want to discuss these issues through the media.”
“We have been negotiating in good faith all along the way and we plan to continue doing that.”
In February, the union previously reached a three-year contract with OCTA for its bus operators. Carpenter said the agency successfully averted a planned strike in an “eleventh-hour” deal.
“We feel that a strike is unnecessary and puts unfair burden on bus passengers that rely on us for getting to work and school,” he said, adding that ridership has increased to 100,000 boardings a day since the pandemic began.
“People rely on us to get to essential jobs and we think a strike would unfairly hurt the people who can least afford to be hurt,” he added.