Bus strike 'inevitable' and 'imminent' says union rep

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PHOENIX – While city buses are operating on their normal schedules right now, both the city and a spokesman for the union representing hundreds of bus drivers say a strike could happen at any moment.

Those who rely on bus service are being advised to have a backup plan in case the strike does happen.

Talks are at a standstill in negotiations between Veolia Transportation, the company that operates a third of Valley Metro’s bus lines, and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433. Those negotiations have been going on for more than a year. The stumbling blocks continue to be wages and sick leave.

While Veolia says Phoenix bus drivers are among the best paid, with top drivers earning salaries averaging more than $50,000, 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.

According to Valley Metro, Veolia has once again presented its best and final offer. It’s identical to the one that was overwhelmingly rejected by ATU a few weeks ago.

According to Bill McLean, ATU’s international vice president, Veolia said it “will impose the terms and conditions of their best and final offer upon the membership,” but no date for that was given.

ATU’s international president has sanctioned a strike, but so far the union has not acted, advising driving to keep working – for now.

“The work stoppage appears to be very imminent,” McLean said in a YouTube video for the local union members. “Strike preparations will continue.”

Last month, 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."

In February, drivers staged a sickout in an effort to make their point. A month later, they rejected an offer from from Veolia, an action that was repeated in August.

Veolia, while not issuing any formal statement or comment on these latest developments, maintains its stance that its offer is fair and appropriate. ATU disagrees.

“A strike was the very last thing the union intended or wanted,” McLean said. “From all appearances, it’s very inevitable in the face of this kind of profiteering by a foreign corporation.”

Veolia has said it has plans in place to meet its agreement with the city, which 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.

Numbers from Valley Metro show that the 31 routes operated by Veolia have about 74,000 boardings each day with passengers from all over Phoenix and surrounding cities.

According to Valley Metro, the routes that could be affected by an ATU strike 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.

Valley Metro said it will be posting updated information as needed on ValleyMetro.org.

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