Company locks out Phoenix bus workers, routes not affected yet

Posted: Updated:

PHOENIX -- The company that operates one-third of Phoenix city buses has locked out dozens of workers in a contract dispute.

"Negotiations ended with a lockout of Teamsters Local 104 yesterday afternoon," said Valerie Michael of Veolia Transportation, the company that operates 33 of the city's 99 bus routes. "The company came to that conclusion after talks had not been moving for several months. We've met with them more than 20 times over the last several months."

Michael said the decision to lock out the workers was made in an effort to minimize service disruptions.

Veolia's old contract with Teamsters Local 104 expired at 12:01a.m. Monday. Sixty unionized employees -- fuelers, cleaners, tire workers and service workers -- were locked out. Mechanics and drivers were not affected. They were told to report to work as usual.

"The main sticking point is that they're demanding the right to subcontract and outsource our work at will," said Andy Marshall, a union representative. "It doesn't do any good to have a contract if you don't have a job."

Veolia has brought in extra workers, including backup drivers and mechanics, to mitigate any impact on the bus routes should the union decide to strike and set up picket lines. If that happens, thousands of bus riders could be affected.

At this point, however, things seem to be running smoothly.

"I think commuters are going to be fine," Marshall said. "Veolia expected us to put up a picket line that the other unions would honor. ... I encouraged the other unions to go to work. We're not on strike. We got locked out."

There's no word yet on whether negotiations will resume.

The Operating Engineers 428 and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433, are still in labor negotiations.

Veolia buses handle some 86,000 boardings every day during the week.

Phoenix and Valley Metro are offering suggestions for those who depend on the bus to get to work during the lockout. The bus line suggests riders plan ahead and use the Trip Planner on ValleyMetro.org for bus and METRO schedules.  In addition, Valley Metro offers a ride matching system that allows commuters to quickly and securely find a carpool partner based on proximity, destination and travel route.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.