LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – A transit worker strike that had been set to take place next week has been called off in order for the two sides to sit down for mediation.
Teamsters Local 665 had called the strike for Dec. 3-5 against Paratransit Services, the Bremerton, Wash.-based nonprofit that has held the contract for Lake Transit Authority since 2007. Thirty-five Lake County employees are represented by the union.
However, on Tuesday, Teamsters Local 665 President Ralph Miranda said the union and Paratransit were going back to the negotiations table.
“We are suspending the strike pending a meeting with the company, with the presence of a federal mediator, prior to our strike action,” Miranda told Lake County News.
Christie Scheffer, Paratransit Services’ executive vice president and chief operating officer, confirmed that late Tuesday afternoon they received word from Local 665 that it had suspended the strike action. She said they were trying to coordinate a meeting with federal mediation services on Dec. 5.
In an email sent to county officials Tuesday night, Lake Transit General Manager Mark Wall called the development “great news for all involved, but particularly for Lake Transit passengers and those workers who contribute everyday to their safe and affordable transportation.”
Paratransit said the strike would have been illegal – and therefore unprotected – and the union was taking part in regressive bargaining.
At the same time, the union is filing an unfair labor practice complaint against Paratransit Services for unilaterally implementing changes in the health care program prior to negotiations being completed.
Scheffer maintained the changes were not significant and that the union was given adequate notice by letter, in addition to the changes having been discussed in early October bargaining sessions.
Local 665 and Paratransit Services have been negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement contract opener on wages, health and welfare issues.
However, after negotiations broke down following the union’s second rejection earlier this month of Paratransit’s best and final offer, the union informed Paratransit on Nov. 19 that it would strike, Scheffer said.
Scheffer said the Paratransit Services’ best and final offer was for a 2.6 percent wage increase, an offer she said was “incredibly fair.” However, with the union rejecting the best and final offer, it reverted to a .75 percent wage increase.
The union and Paratransit Services offered slightly differing versions of what workers were seeking.
Miranda said the union was seeking the equivalent of 3.5 percent wage increase, based on the consumer price index, along with a reinstatement of wage step increases and a return to the previous health care plan. “Stop gutting our medical benefits that we cannot afford anyway,” he said.
Scheffer said the wage step increases represent an average 4-percent wage increase a year plus a 3.1 percent consumer price index.
According to Scheffer, since the 2007-08 contract the employees will have received 19.05 percent increase in wages while Paratransit Services has received 11.77 percent in contract rate increases.
Paratransit Services and its employees had last reached agreement on a contract in September 2010 following a threat of a strike, as Lake County News has reported.
Miranda explained that in the 2010 contract both sides agreed to reopen the contract every year to revisit wages, health and welfare issues, as they were doing this year.
He said he had confidence that a federal mediator would be able to assist the union and Paratransit Services in finding a workable resolution.
Federal mediators, he added, “don’t have the same emotions as the parties at the table.”
In a Tuesday memo to Wall, Scheffer wrote, “We care about our employees and their families and hope we can resolve these matters quickly and in a manner which honors our values of respect and integrity and preserves our professional relationships with our employees.”
However, as they don’t know how mediation with go, Scheffer said Paratransit Services is continuing to prepare for the possibility of a strike, which includes running temporary recruitment ads, preparing to contact riders, providing information to employees and making a backup service plan.
Email Elizabeth Larson at [email protected] . Follow her on Twitter, @ERLarson, or Lake County News, @LakeCoNews.