Win for Union as Judge Issues Injunction in AC Transit Labor Dispute

An Oakland judge granted a temporary injunction late this afternoon that prevents AC Transit from unilaterally imposing its last, best and final offer on the agency’s 1,100 bus drivers, saying it not only has the potential to cause harm to the operators and their families, but to the agency’s 236,000 riders.

"ATU’s members will be subject to work schedules that require them to be behind the wheel for longer times, to be at work for lengthy hours, and to drive unfamiliar routes without training on those routes," Judge Judith D. Ford wrote. "All these factors not only disrupt the employees’ lives and expectations, but also have the potential to result in conditions that are not safe for the drivers or the riding public."

The ruling followed a two-hour court hearing Friday in which lawyers for AC Transit and Amalgated Transit Union Local 192 locked horns over who is suffering the most irreparable harm. In her ruling, Ford called AC Transit’s claims that it will be harmed "speculative."

"While it is clear that AC Transit is in financial straits, it is not apparent from the evidence that making immediate changes to employees’ run schedules, and the other changes AC Transit has undertaken, are necessary to avoid service cuts, schedule changes or layoffs."

After more than three months of negotiations between ATU and AC Transit failed to produce a new contract (the old one expired June 30), union officials were successful in getting a judge to order both sides into binding arbitration. The dispute intensified when AC Transit’s Board of Directors decided to go ahead and implement the new contract, which included changes to work rules and route assignments and a hike in health insurance contributions.

The agency, which is facing a two-year $56 million deficit, said it needs about $15.7 million in concessions from drivers, as labor costs account for 75 percent of its budget. It claims without the new work rules, the shortfall increases by $300,000 a week.

Last week, the transit agency said hundreds of drivers staged a sickout, disrupting service for riders, but some drivers have disputed that claim, accusing AC Transit of exaggerating the numbers. A union rep told the Chronicle that the drivers chose to stay home, rather than face dangerous conditions caused by new assignments which they had no training for.

Claudia Hudson, the president of ATU Local 192, said today’s ruling means that AC Transit has until August 10th to restore the changes.

"I am just overwhelmed and glad that the judge ruled in our favor for the workers and the riding public," said Hudson. "Things will be restored and from day one I’ve been here, ready, able and willing to negotiate."

AC Transit, however, issued a press release saying the ruling could result in more service cuts and job losses, quoting General Manager Mary King as saying "the future sustainability of the district is in serious danger."

"Without the savings from the work rules, the district now must find $15.7 million from somewhere. We need to go back to the drawing table to see if we can sustain more layoffs and service cuts to address our deficit. The fear is that to close the gap the cuts will have to be draconian," said King.

The agency is already scheduled to implement service cuts August 29th and "with this new financial blow," King added, " the service levels could be disastrous for transit dependent populations."

AC Transit’s Board of Directors was scheduled to meet this evening to consider an appeal. 

  • david vartanoff

    Too bad the judge isn’t transit dependent. Then her expectations could be disrupted, too.

  • Dan

    Well, gee, how about this. Don’t want to train for unfamiliar routes? Take a pay cut. There, there’s your 17 million there easy.

    Unions suck.

  • Joe

    Unions are the reason we have weekends, overtime pay, 40 hour workweeks, vacation, benefits, and even the level of salary and education that has brought us the freedom to use the Internet and comment on blogs. And before we think that only unions of the past were beneficial, consider that unions are the last defense against the onslaught of deficit hawks, bureaucrats, and greedy corporations who have already decimated private sector benefits. Let’s not make it a race to the bottom.

  • This is another reminder of the enormous danger transit riders face when one group is given a monopoly on operations, especially for an area as huge as that which AC Tranist covers. Bidding operation services out to several competing firms would result in both lower cost and higher performance requirements as a result of competition, and better protection against disruptions in service

  • Joe

    Please elaborate. Wasn’t AC Transit the result of the public sector stepping in to rescue the failed private bus lines that succeeded the Key System? Many agencies do contract out some of their services. In LA, the contracted services are often the most expensive to operate and the least productive for LACMTA.

  • L C

    There are wright way to do things and wrong way to do things, the district went about it the wrong way, you can’t just force a contract on someone, you must negotiate,that’s the american way

  • Winston

    Fire all the union workers and contract out the bus service. You could get nearly twice as much service at the same cost. The fact is that workers are vastly overpaid and underworked. Consider the following: the average AC transit worker takes 1 sick day every 2 weeks. Could you miss one day out of every 10 and still keep your 70k/year + awesome benefits job? Why should they?

  • Winston

    Joe,

    You’re wrong about costs. LA’s contracted services are the cheapest to operate, both on a per-hour and per mile basis. They are marginally more expensive to operate on a passenger mile basis because the contracted out buses are (for historical reasons) used on the least busy routes. Also, while AC transit was the result of the government taking over the private key system (which had been destroyed by the government kicking it off the bay bridge), it would have been better to either subsidize the private operator or contract out the service to several contract bus operators.

    It’s worth noting that not all public bus agencies that directly operate their buses screw over the public. CCCTA (the County Connection) manages to keep their operating costs under control.

  • Joe

    Looking at the FY09 Budget, while cost per revenue service hour is less for contracted services, cost per passenger mile, cost per boarding, subisdy per boarding, subsidy per passenger mile, fare recovery ratio, and fare revnue per boarding are all at least 50% worse than the equivalent metrics for in-house services. Moreover, many of the contracted lines are generally more peripheral in the case of LA… some lines in the South Bay and eastern part of the county, for example. Many of the lines are consent decree added owing to the settlement with the Bus Riders Union. Generally, they all require/required a high subsidy per passenger, and that’s why they were contracted, according to metro.

    http://www.metro.net/board/Items/2010/07_July/20100715OPItem9.pdf
    http://www.metro.net/about_us/finance/images/budget_adopted_fy09.pdf

  • Joe

    Here’s another study, albeit from 1998, about the positives and negatives of transit service contracting. While appropriate in some settings, it’s not a panacea for budget issues.

    http://www.uctc.net/papers/365.pdf

  • patrick

    While I have little problem with unions in the private sector, unions that operate in the public realm are a bane on society. They don’t do the one thing that a union is supposed to do: negotiate with those who are paying them.

    Public unions negotiate with politicians or their appointed proxies, who need the unions support to get re-elected, while the unions membership are paid by the public. 99% of the time politicians have everything to lose by being tough with unions, so they give the unions outrageous contracts, and by the time the terrible deal the public got was discovered, the politician and/or appointed official is off in another place, so they never have to take the heat for the bad deal they negotiated on the public’s behalf.

  • I definitely agree that contracting has to be looked at as an opportunity rather than a panacea. The opportunity of contracting is that you can overcome the biggest challenge to effective management of government: the lack of competition. But the challenge is that while you can make vendors compete with each other, the agency handing out the contract is still a monopoly, and so without both good oversight and competent contract management, you can end up with crony contracts and vendors that perform just as bad or worse than the agenencies contracting them. The key is to develop an excellent contract management team and strong political pressure for transparency and oversight of the bidding process.

    I’d point to the Emery-Go-Round as an even better example in the Bay Area, and actually it is operated by a privately funded nonprofit, financed through a business improvement district and operated through a contract to SFO Parking, and charges no fares. While AC transit has now dropped essential routes in the Emeryville/Northwest Oakland area, Emery-Go-Round was able to add a new stop at 40th and San Pablo and increase frequency and operating hours to help fill the gap, all without charging riders anything!

  • Winston

    Joe,

    Let’s consider the metrics. A full bus costs the same to operate per hour as an empty one. All the metrics you cite are mostly a function of how full the buses are. LA contracts out suburban routes that were once planned for elimination and directly operates busy ones. Were MTA directly operate the contracted bus routes they would be much, much less cost-effective. Similarly, were LA’s contract operators to run routes like the 720 (which are among the busiest bus routes in the country) then they would be even more cost-effective.

    Looking at the study you cite, it is apparent that the biggest factor other than service design in the cost of transit operations is unionization. Really the issue is weather a single union is able hold the area hostage with the threat of a strike. Properly structured contract operations (that is, hiring several different contract operators for different portions of the service and having their contracts expire at different times) prevents union capture of the agency and allows reasonable cost control. The reason contract operation only makes a small difference is that they separate it from unionization.

    The real problem is union capture of public services and contracting, if used correctly, is a powerful tool to prevent this.

  • Andy Chow

    That’s why newer transit agencies are mostly contracted, and that the likelihood of a merger of transit agencies is very little.

    The transit industry is really no different than the airlines industry. The old mainline carriers are not making money because it was saddled with lots of union legacy costs (pensions, etc). The newer airlines are able to make money. Other than legacy costs, the cost structure is not that different. All airlines still have to pay for the fuel, pay for landing space, and workers have similar safety requirements.

    The difference between the private sector and public sector unions is that unions have influence on who gets chosen to sit on the transit board (or any other government entities). Someone who wants to be a politician would often want union endorsements. So at the end that influence make the transit cost structure less sustainable. Unions working for a private company have less political influence and the bosses have economic incentives to keep the cost reasonable.

    What I am disappointed about the sickouts is that the drivers still get sick pay and riders are paying the price for not having service. The drivers have no guts to go strike because they want money. If the drivers were to strike for a week, AC Transit would probably save plenty of money to offset the union’s demand. Rather, they took twice a much from the public: the sick pay, and leave riders behind.

  • Joe

    Interestingly enough, one of the most heavily unionized air carriers (87%, including most areas of the company), Southwest Airlines, is one of the most successful and profitable, with among the highest rates of customer satisfaction in the country AND among the lowest fares.

    Let’s put the budget blame where it’s due: mismanagement of the agency by executives more set on jet-setting to Belgium to buy overpriced, poorly made buses, and a Wall Street-caused recession, NOT a fair wage to do one of the most demanding customer-facing jobs in the region. That, coupled with a tyrannical minority that forces sales tax increases on all of us while keeping tax rates on activities such as oil extraction at zero, have brought AC Transit, and virtually all other public services in the state, to the brink. Meanwhile, all of us, from riders to bus operators, are suffering. The supposed gains of private contracting of public services since the Reagan era have not materialized: a search of Google Scholar will confirm this, conservative corporate-funded think tanks notwithstanding.

  • Joe

    And again, the idea that politicians are beholden to unions is a laughable joke. With American union membership at about 7% of the labor force, unions are weaker than ever. Maybe machine politics once ran the show, but that hasn’t been the case for decades. Rather, politicians, Democrats and Republicans, bankrolled by big business and Wall Street, are intent on dealing the final death blows to the labor movement that began with the stagnation and decline of private sector wages, benefits, and job security over the last thirty years. Instead of attacking others and dividing itself along the lines artificially crafted by corporate plutocrats, the middle class must unite and show solidarity for one another. Already, the gross index of inequality of the United States is at its worst point since the 20s. Unless we want to engage in a race to the bottom where a decent future free of want and hunger is forever out of reach for average Americans as it is for much of the rest of the world, we ought to stop demonizing one another, and instead demand funding for the services we need in order to build a more just and equitable future.

  • Joe

    http://urbanhabitat.org/node/1812

    “To field-test the primacy of privatization, the Reagan administration sponsored a transportation competition in the early 1980s between Miami’s Metro-Dade Transit Agency and Greyhound Bus Service. The two providers were each given five comparable transit routes to manage over three years and 80 new buses were bought with a $7.5 million grant from the federal government. After 18 months, 30 of the Greyhound buses were so badly damaged that they had to be permanently pulled from service; passenger complaints were up 100 percent; and ridership was down 31 percent. Why? There was no incentive in Greyhound’s contract to maintain the equipment or retain riders, so the company’s only goal was to deliver the cheapest service possible. The experiment offers an important lesson in privatization politics: when you add the cost of adequately protecting the public’s interest, the private sector doesn’t look so efficient.”

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