The Orange County Transportation Authority and Teamsters Local 952 – the union representing the agency’s bus maintenance workers – reached agreement on a new contract after union members voted this weekend to approve it.

The contract largely follows an OCTA offer the union had been rejecting for several weeks, at one point prompting a three-day strike that immobilized Orange County bus service, and was marred by verbal physical threats by Teamster picketers against other OCTA employees.

The three-year deal with OCTA’s 150 maintenance workers, including mechanics and service workers, gives them a 5% raise over each of the next three years and includes a $1,250 signing bonus. The contract will make OCTA maintenance workers second only to LA Metro as best compensated transit workers among Southern California transportation agencies.

“We are excited that both sides were able to work out differences, find common ground and keep our buses running for the tens of thousands of people who rely on OC Bus to get to work, to school and other important destinations,” said OCTA Chairman Mark A. Murphy, also the Mayor of Orange. “This contract rewards our maintenance employees for the great work they do.”

“No one ever wants to take the fight to the streets or strike. Unfortunately, that is exactly what we had to do,” said Eric Jiminez, secretary-treasurer of Local 952.

“However, we are pleased that we have ratified a fair agreement for our members,” said Jiminez.

Health care was a sticking point in the negotiations. The Teamsters resisted an OCTA proposal to enroll bus maintenance workers in the agency’s health care plan, which would entail significant out-of-pocket savings for the workers. The union prefers keeping members in its Teamsters Labor Alliance Trust health insurance fund. The Teamsters lead negotiator Frank Sevilla is also a trustee of that 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.

Long And Fractious Negotiations

The negotiations between the OCTA and the Teamsters was long and fractious. During the short strike, Teamsters picketed OCTA facilities, and the agency documented numerous instances of picketers verbally and physically harassing other OCTA employees.

Union threats to engage in further strikes prompted the OCTA to ask the California Public Employees Relations Board (PERB) for an injunction enjoining Teamsters Local 952 from any further strikes, claiming state and federal law prohibit intermittent striking. PERB, which is dominated by political appointees with ties to public employee unions, denied the request without explanation.

Local 952, for its part, accuses OCTA of failure to negotiate in good faith, claiming it “stonewalled any progress towards a fair and equitable agreement.”

In their press release on the new agreement, Jiminez expressed hope the election of a Democrat-majority to the OC Board of Supervisors will work to the union’s advantage when the union starts bargaining on the bus driver’s contract next year.

“We hope to see CHANGE with a newly elected board of Orange County Supervisors,” said the Local 952 boss. “We are going back to the table in less than a year to negotiate the coach operators agreement.”

The five members of the Orange County Board of Supervisors are also statutory members of the OCTA Board of Directors.