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.