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Sun Tran workers reject contract; Strike possible Thursday

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Sun Tran workers reject contract; Strike possible Thursday

A "firm and final offer" by the management company that operates Tucson's Sun Tran bus system was rejected this weekend by unionized bus drivers. An extension of the current contract runs out Wednesday night, and a strike is possible after that.

If a work stoppage is called, Sun Tran management will operate limited service along main routes. Sun Tran and labor representatives said Tuesday that no agreement had been reached, but that they were continuing to negotiate a new contract.

In a memo to Mayor and Council this weekend, Assistant City Manager Albert Elias warned that a strike could begin on Thursday.

By a vote of 262 to 79, the members of Teamsters Local 104 rejected the latest proposal on Saturday. The union represents Sun Tran's more than 500 drivers, mechanics and service workers.

The sticking point: wages. A freeze on pay raises instituted two years ago was to be continued under the proposal by Professional Transit Management/Veolia Transportation, Inc., the private firm that operates the city bus system under a management contract.

The freeze means that pay for bus drivers lags that of workers in comparable jobs who work directly for the city, said Andy Marshall, the secretary-treasurer of the statewide Teamsters local.

"Garbage truck drivers make $2 more per hour than a bus driver" after accounting for health care costs, Marshall said Sunday. Starting bus drivers are paid $13.30 hourly.

The contract expired July 31, but management and the union agreed to extend it through Aug. 6 while continuing to negotiate. That extension expires just before midnight on Wednesday.

Marshall said he's "hopeful" the two sides can reach an agreement.

"We're going to do everything in our power" to come to a fair agreement, he said. "I understand how important the transit system is to Tucson — people depend on it."

"We continue to be hopeful an agreement can be reached prior to the expiration of the contract extension," the system's general manager, Kate Riley, said in a news release Monday, echoing a statement released a week ago.

Although Elias said in his memo that "Due to the labor rules that govern the negotiations, the city cannot insert itself into the labor negotiation process," Marshall noted Sunday that it is the City Council that "controls the contract" with PTM/Veolia.

Because public employee unions can't strike in Arizona, and federal grants are only available to transportation systems that allow full collective bargaining rights, the city contracts out the management of Sun Tran.

Last weekend, union workers authorized a strike if a work contract is not reached.

"We encourage riders to plan accordingly and identify potential transportation alternatives in case a service disruption is called," Riley said.

If workers go out on strike, Sun Tran will initially offer limited weekday service on Routes 3, 4, 6, 8, 11 and 16 from approximately 6 a.m. through 6:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, spokeswoman Kandi Young said Tuesday.

In 2010, drivers went on strike for a week after voting to reject a proposed contract. A strike was narrowly averted in 2012 when a last-minute deal included a one-percent pay bump for the highest-paid drivers and mechanics. That deal included the freeze on nearly all pay raises. Bus workers also went on strike in 2001.

Although tickets and passes sold for Sun Tran and the new Sun Link streetcar are good on both systems, streetcar employees are not represented by the union, and the system is operated separately.

Marshall said that the Teamsters will work to organize streetcar workers as well as Sun Tran workers.

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