LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – The county's transit agency is preparing for a strike action by transit workers that's expected to take place early next week.
The strike by members of Teamsters Local 665 is anticipated to take place on Monday, July 1, and Tuesday, July 2, in response to a breakdown in negotiations with Paratransit Services, the Bremerton, Wash.-based nonprofit that has operated Lake Transit Authority since 2007.
Negotiations toward a new three-year agreement broke down after employees met and failed to ratify Paratransit Services' offer on Sunday, according to Mark Wall, Lake Transit Authority's general manager.
He said union members informed Paratransit Services that they would strike July 1-2 and return to work on Wednesday, July 3.
The majority of the roughly 36 Paratransit Services employees represented by Local 665 are expected to strike, said Don Staler, the union's local shop steward and a Lake Transit driver for the last four years.
When Local 665 members voted for how long to strike – two days or a week – the two-day strike won by only two votes, which Staler took for an indication of solidarity among workers. He said a federal mediator was at the last negotiating session.
Randy Grove, director of operations and human resources for Paratransit Services, said in a written statement that a 2.2-percent wage rate increase was offered to Lake Transit employees.
Grove said that followed a 2.6-percent increase provided last year, and represents a cumulative 23.1- percent in wage rate increases over the six-year period of Paratransit Services’ administration of transit services for Lake Transit Authority.
“We have experienced increased operating costs, rising medical costs, and are seeing decreased transit funding in California,” Grove said.
He said the 2.2-percent wage increase was “incredibly fair in light of layoffs, furloughs and business closures experienced by others in the region,” adding that the union was seeking an overall wage and benefit package increase totaling 8.2 percent for 2013.
Staler, who estimated he makes only $0.50 more an hour today than he did when he started four years ago, did not have available the breakdown of the union’s requests for wages and benefit increases, but he said there are a number of issues on the table.
Those issues include bereavement pay for part-time workers; lack of accrued sick days; health benefits, which Staler said only about half a dozen workers can afford to take; and low morale and turnover, which Staler suggested is an outgrowth of Lake County's Paratransit Services workers making $2 to $3 an hour less than surrounding counties and roughly half of them working only part-time.
A main issue is restoration of step increases, which Staler said the union agreed to suspend several years ago due to the economy with Paratransit Services not allowing them the step increases back. Staler said those step increases are written into the Lake Transit contract.
Demand for Lake Transit's services have continued to go up, with Staler pointing out that 400,000 were transported by the agency last year.
Last year, Lake Transit put up its rates. “That never got to us,” said Staler, who believes the company is able – but unwilling – to pay its employees what they're worth.
Paratransit Services and its Lake County employees have had negotiations stalemates previously that came close to resulting in strike actions.
In August 2010, a federal negotiator brought the two sides to the table, with a new contract approved about two weeks later, as Lake County News has reported.
Most recently, Lake Transit workers had been days from a planned strike last November during negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement contract opener on wages, health and welfare issues, when the two sides agreed to return to the table for mediation.
As a result of next week's planned strike, transit officials said the following limited services will operate July 1-2:
- Clear Lake / Lakeport Dial-a-Ride (DAR) will operate from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.;
- Routes 5 and 6 will run from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.;
- Route 4 westbound will operate at 7:05 a.m. and 1 p.m.;
- Route 1 eastbound will operate at 8:31 a.m. and 2:21 p.m.
As a result of Lake Transit’s large increase in ridership over the last several years, plans have been made to offer expanded services in the Clearlake area, including adding a third route and extending the operation day from 5:19 a.m. until 10:52 p.m. as of July 1, Wall said.
The strike will have the added effect of delaying that service expansion until after employees return to work, Wall said.
Wall said riders who would like to be kept informed of service conditions can register to receive automated telephone updates by calling 707-994-3334. Riders also can visit www.laketransit.org .
Staler acknowledged that the strike could have a huge financial impact on the county, even though it's meant to be short-lived.
As for whether there might be any meetings this week that could stop the strike, Staler said that the next move is up to Paratransit Services.
“They know what we're going to do and when we're going to do it,” he said.
Email Elizabeth Larson at [email protected] . Follow her on Twitter, @ERLarson, or Lake County News, @LakeCoNews.