More than 600 Phoenix bus drivers went on strike early Saturday morning resulting in reduced bus service and displacing passengers after transit services were unable to settle collapsed labor talks.
Veolia Transportation and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433 failed to end a nearly two-year dispute over benefits and wages. The debated terms include increasing sick-leave, retirement benefits and health care coverage.
The Amalgamated Transit Union is the largest labor organization representing transit workers in the United States and Canada.
Early Saturday morning, bus operators started missing shifts at 2 of the 3 bus operating facilities. Phoenix’s Interim Public Transit Director Neil Young immediately worked with Veolia to fill the positions with backup drivers along the affected routes.
Only 24 percent of all buses were running as scheduled on Saturday and just 28 percent on Sunday.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton held a press conference Saturday afternoon to urge Veolia and ATU Local 1433 to continue labor talks so that public transit passengers did not have to suffer any longer.
“Providing quality bus service is critically important to the functioning of this city,” Stanton said.
The striking Veolia drivers operate 31 of the 46 routes in Phoenix. In addition, 19 routes in Tempe operated by Veolia drivers were affected by the strike, for a total of 50 of the 101 Valley Metro bus routes.
“I am frustrated that’s it gotten to this point. The city has worked hard to do everything that we reasonably could to get the two sides to get together and resolve their issues,” Stanton said.
Matthew Heil, city of Phoenix spokesman for 5 years, said, “There has never been a bus strike like this before.”
Dennis Paulson, part of the executive board for the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433, said he thought Veolia was not bargaining with the union.
“(Passengers) want to get to work everyday. They don’t have that means of transportation, they don’t go to work and they get fired,” Paulson said.
Veolia released a company statement on Friday in response to the threat of the bus operator strike.
“This latest strike threat comes as a surprise to all who have been involved in what were productive labor negotiations the last three days,” Veolia officials said.
The city of Phoenix is unsure of what the situation will be in the coming weeks.
“We’re running at reduced services and we just don’t know when it will end,” Phoenix spokeswoman Marie Chapple Camacho said.
Phoenix bus passenger, Bill Murray, 60, said he has to stay at a friend’s house because it is closer to where he works during the strike but sees the intent of the drivers and the company.
“I drove Greyhound for 21 years. I understand both sides and I understand the company’s position and the drivers,” Murray said. “What I don’t understand is that this is tax payers’ money. It seems like everyone’s passing the buck.”
Veolia told ATU that it was willing to negotiate further, but the bus-operator union must stop causing hardship on Phoenix bus passengers, Veolia officials said at the press briefing Saturday.
“I have made this clear to both sides. I fully expect that they will stop the quarreling, get a grasp on the big picture and resolve this issue so our city’s residents can continue to live their lives, utilize our bus service and continue the momentum this city has to recover and succeed,” Stanton said.
Veolia Transportation has scheduled two more sessions of labor negotiations for March 22 and 23, according to Friday’s company statement.
The Metro light rail is not associated with the buses that have gone off route, but there could be an influx of passengers as a result of the strike.
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