Will Phoenix bus drivers go on strike today?

Posted: Updated:

PHOENIX – The Phoenix bus driver represented by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433 have voted against a new collective bargaining with Veolia Transportation Services, which operates one-third of Valley Metro’s bus routes.

According to the union’s website, the vote was overwhelming with 96 percent saying no to Veolia’s “best and final” offer. Only 4 percent voted yes. ATU wants to go back to the table with Veolia for more negotiations to avoid a potential strike.

Drivers say they do not want to abandon their passengers, many of whom rely on public transportation.

ATU says it’s ready to meet as early as Thursday. Veolia has not said if it’s willing to go back to the bargaining table.

As of 6 a.m., it was business as usual for Valley Metro bus service, but that could change. The union was awaiting a phone call from its international leadership. That call, which was expected some time Wednesday morning, could give the bus divers the approval to walk off the job and go on strike.

Valley Metro is advising those who ride the bus to make backup plans in case the drivers do walk off the job.

If a strike does happen, Veolia says it has plans in place to meet its agreement with the city that requires it to run at 60 percent of regular service during work stoppages. That level of service is equivalent to a typical Sunday when buses run less often. Routes in Phoenix, Glendale, Tempe and Scottsdale could be disrupted.

“It may disrupt service for a small portion of the day,” said Matt Heil of Phoenix Public Transit about the potential strike. “We may not be able to ramp up to that 60 contractually required level [right away], but we are definitely planning ahead to look toward that should it occur.”

According to Valley Metro, the routes that could be affected include DASH, SMART, 0, 1, 7, 8, 10, 12, 15, 16, 19, 27, 35, 39, 44, 50, 52, 60, 70, 80, 90, 106, 122, 138, 154, 170, 186, RAPID I-10 East, RAPID I-17, RAPID SR-51 and Express 581

The issues Veolia and ATU are trying to hash out are not new. Negotiations have been going on for more than a year. Pay and sick leave are at the heart of the dispute.

While Veolia says Phoenix bus drivers are among the best paid, ATU was not happy with the company's latest offer, saying it would increase employee pay by just 3 percent over five years and would take sick leave that employees have accrued.

A similar vote took place in April, less than a month after drivers staged a sickout. Negotiations were extended again at that time. The city itself has not been involved in any of the negotiations between Veolia and ATU.

On Tuesday, Veolia placed an ad in the Arizona Republic, explaining the situation as it sees it. ATU Local 1433 vice president Michael Cornelius responded point by point on the union's website, calling Veolia CEO Mark Joseph "incredibly misinformed" and saying the full-page newspaper ad was full of "lies and untruthful statements."

While no strike has been called yet, drivers believe it is imminent.

Information will be updated as it develops throughout the morning.

If you have questions for Valley Metro, you can contact customer service at csr@valleymetro.org or 602-253-5000.