Bus service for Orange County residents resumed Monday as the Orange County Transportation Authority and Teamsters Local 924 returned to the negotiating table in an attempt to hammer out a mutually acceptable contract for the approximately 150 striking mechanics, maintenance workers and technicians represented by Local 952.

The union called the strike on Thursday afternoon, halting bus service on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The Teamsters had rejected an OCTA offer that would raise the top pay for mechanics to nearly $90,000 annually, and providing them with access to health care at a significantly lower monthly premiums. Members’ wages would increase 14.25% over the next three years, beginning immediately.

The offer rejected by the Teamsters 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.

The Teamsters ended the strike late Sunday, but warned they could renew the strike at any time and again halt bus service for the more than 100,000 residents who use the system daily.

During the strike, Teamsters mounted pickets at several OCTA facilities, leading to a number of alleged instances of picketers physically and verbally harassing agency employees coming to and from their jobs.

“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 Mark A. Murphy, also the Mayor of Orange.

Teamster Criticizes Union Leadership For Strike, Picketers’ Behavior

According to sources, a number of maintenance workers expressed anger about lost income due to the strike and complained about lack of strike pay. Bus drivers, who are also members of Teamsters Local 952, are also losing income since they couldn’t work during the strike.

In an e-mail sent on Sunday to Local 952 leaders, an OCTA bus driver was critical of how they conducted negotiations.

“On Wednesday night, after my 10-hour shift, I asked a union rep what the issues are that are in dispute with the maintenance contract. I was told that “it’s confidential,” the coach operator wrote. “I asked about the pay for walking the picket line and I was told that there may be some pay and at some date in the future, This is simply not good enough for a professional organization. If you are demanding that people take a 100% pay cut indefinitely, I think the burden is on the union to inform and persuade us why we should support this cause.”

“I’m sure you can also understand that we all have personal expenses. After all, this is one of the reasons for the strike, to negotiate for more pay for my colleagues in maintenance,” continued the bus driver. “When given the opportunity to be paid, I’m sure you can understand that I need income just like anyone else in maintenance. They already earn more than me. It’s possible that they and others can better afford to strike. I’m sorry, but I can’t afford to live with no income.”

“With the holidays, inflation, rising prices, etc. Will the Teamsters pay my rent in December or will I be homeless in order to be on the picket line?” he asked.

He also took aim at the aggressive behavior of fellow Teamsters on the picket line.

“I’ve heard that rocks were thrown when a coworker was leaving the base yesterday. Someone else said that a picketer shouted “scab” to them. Last night, I had a woman run toward me and take a picture, supposedly to post online. I’ve head of others being posted online as if to shame those who are disloyal. This is all very immature, in my opinion,” the driver told Local 952 leaders.

“This is ridiculous and outrageous,” he said. “So far this year, I’ve paid $776 in dues to the Teamsters, apparently for the privilege of being harassed and disrespected.”

OCTA V. Teamster Health Insurance Coverage At Crux of Negotiations

According to sources, the crux of the dispute is whether to include maintenances workers in OCTA health insurance coverage, or keep them enrolled in the Teamsters Labor Alliance Trust health insurance fund.

The Teamsters health insurance is what is commonly known as a Taft-Hartley health plan, a reference to the landmark 1947 federal labor from which they stem. They’re expensive and unions which have them feel financial pressure to keep their members enrolled in them. They’re also become problematic due to Obamacare.

The OCTA has proposed enrolling maintenance workers in its insurance coverage instead, noting it would be less expensive for the employees:

OCTA maintenance workers pay monthly premiums of $350 regardless of whether they a single or getting coverage for their family. Furthermore, new hires must wait three months before the coverage begins – although they still pay their premiums for those three months.

If enrolled in the OCTA’s plan, maintenance workers would pay tiered premiums depending on whether it was single coverage, two people, or a family. The lowest premium tier is $38.05 for one person up to $220,52 for a family.

That would be an annual savings of $2,901.84$1,553.82 for a family.

Teamsters lead negotiator Frank Sevilla is also a trustee of the union’s Labor Alliance Managed Trust Fund, which runs the health insurance program in which the union would like the maintenance workers to remain enrolled.