Bus strike looming in Phoenix?

Posted: Updated:

PHOENIX – Valley Metro bus riders could be facing service disruptions if the contractor that runs the bus system cannot settle on a new contract with its drivers.

Negotiations between Veolia Transportation Services and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433 have been going on for nine months.

The last round of bargaining is slated for the end of this week and on April 28.

Veolia, which operated 33 of Valley Metro’s 99 routes, said if there’s no deal, it will impose a new contract, regardless of what the drivers want.

Drivers staged a sickout in late February.

Veolia wants new drivers to earn less money than those already working for the company. Any wage reduction would only affect drivers hired after July 1, 2010.

The company also wants employees to contribute to health insurance costs, and to cap the accrual of sick leave at 35 days.

In addition to looking for a small raise, the union wants the wage and benefit structure to remain the same. Right now, drivers do not pay for health care. The union also wants the sick-leave accrual to be capped at 66 days rather than 35.

While ATU has not said how it will respond if Veolia simply imposes a new contract, a work stoppage or slowdown could be possible.

Back in October, Veolia locked out dozens of bus employees – not drivers or mechanics – in a similar contract dispute with the Teamsters union. Veolia brought in extra workers to cover for those employees. The effects of that lockout on bus riders was limited and labor agreements were eventually reached.

Even if Veolia and and the ATU, which represents more than 1,600 drivers, are able to hammer out an agreement, there could be more issues this summer. Veolia's contracts with employees in Tempe, First Transit employees in West Phoenix and MV Dial-a-Ride expire on July 1.