Bus service in Orange County came to a halt today as the union representing the Orange County Transportation Authority’s bus maintenance workers called a strike after rejecting an offer that would raise the top pay for mechanics to nearly $90,000 annually, plus increased healthcare and pension benefits.
The approximately 150 mechanics, machinists and technicians are represented by Teamsters Local 952. Negotiations have been ongoing since May of this year.
ACCESS service for those with disabilities will continue as usual.
OCTA says it expects to resume negotiations on Friday and is willing to meet with the union at any point.
The contract offer rejected by the Teamsters includes an immediate 5% raise, another 4.75% raise on Oct. 1, 2023, and an additional 4.5% raise starting Oct. 1, 2024 – a total wage increase of 14.25% wage over the next three years.
The offer would bring bus maintenance workers top wage to $43.19 an hour for journeyman mechanics – equivalent to nearly $90,000 per year.
The rejected offer also increased employer-side healthcare contributions by 16% over the same period while continuing contributions to the two pension plans that union members receive, including contributing 26.4% of employees’ wages to the Orange County Employees Retirement System (OCERS) and $1.30 per hour worked (up to 2,080 hours) to the Western Conference of Teamsters Pension Fund.
“We are disappointed the union has called off negotiations and ask that they return to the table so we can reach a fair resolution that rewards our maintenance employees for their great work,” said OCTA Chairman Mark A. Murphy, also the Mayor of Orange. “Thousands of people rely on OC Bus to get to school and work every day, and we hope the union calls off the strike to avoid further hurting the people in Orange County who can least afford to be hurt.”
“We understand how this labor dispute will adversely affect thousands of riders who depend on the bus system for their transportation needs,” said Teamsters Local 952 Secretary-Treasurer Eric Jiminez, while accusing the OCTA of refusing to bargain in good faith.
Jiminez says the Teamsters will only return to the negotiating table if the “OCTA significantly modifies their bargaining position.”
The crux of the dispute appears to be the health care plan. OCTA has offered to provide healthcare options for maintenance workers that will lower their monthly costs. However, the maintenance employees are the only group who are in the Teamsters Labor Alliance Trust health insurance fund, and the union does not want them to leave. The plan cost and design of the union’s health insurance fund – including premiums, co-pays and benefits – are completely within the control of Teamsters leadership.
The Teamsters contend keeping their members in their plan will save the OCTA money.
On average, OCTA’s coach operators, which are under OCTA’s healthcare plan, pay approximately $120 per month for their healthcare contribution. OCTA has offered to provide healthcare options to lower the monthly cost for maintenance employees.
The Teamsters are organizing 24-hour picketing at four maintenance sites.
OCTA has asked Gov. Gavin Newsom to intervene to avoid bus service interruptions, but has received no response. The Governor has the legal authority to intervene in a transit labor dispute and appoint an independent board to review the issues and ask for a cooling-off period to resume negotiations while workers return to their jobs.
According to the OCTA, approximately 85% of their riders use the bus system as their primary means of transportation and more than half of riders have a total household income of less than $50,000.
Transit service is also vital to students getting to and from school. In the last year, more than 3 million trips have been taken on OC Bus with OCTA’s Youth Ride Free and College Pass programs.
OCTA has met with the union more than 20 times, including mediated sessions, to negotiate a new contract. The existing contract expired Sept. 30.
The OCTA narrowly averted a strike by bus drivers earlier this year.