Public bus service returned across Orange County early Monday after striking maintenance workers paused their four-day strike, according to the OC Transportation Authority (OCTA), which operates the buses.
The strike is paused until after the election that ends Tuesday night, said a spokeswoman for the workers’ union.
“The pause gives people who depend on public transit a time to vote,” Teamsters Local 952 spokeswoman Margie Stites told Voice of OC on Monday.
Another shutdown could come again later in the week if negotiations don’t progress over the workers’ healthcare benefits.
“Depending on whether we reach an agreement with OTA, the picket lines may go up again this week,” the union wrote in an online update.
The union said picket lines temporarily went down Sunday evening, which OCTA officials said allowed them to fully resume bus service Monday morning.
Bus service was fully operational Monday, OCTA spokesman Joel Zlotnik said.
“We hope that there will be no further disruption in service and that we can work this out without affecting the people that count on OC Bus to get to work, school and other important destinations,” OCTA Chairman Mark A. Murphy, who also is the mayor of Orange, said in a statement.
The move comes amid a breakdown in negotiations between Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) leaders and the Teamsters local, which represents bus maintenance workers.
OCTA officials say they’ve made a fair offer that’s similar to what bus drivers got earlier this year, while the union says that’s false when it comes to healthcare benefits and that OCTA walked away from the bargaining table last Monday without responding to the union’s counteroffer.
“If we accept the agreement as-is, as proposed by [OCTA], our members will see [health care] costs by next year go somewhere up to $400, and over the life of the contract close to $500 per month for healthcare,” the union’s secretary-treasurer, Eric Jiminez, said in an interview last week.
They’re the only bargaining group of OCTA employees that has to pay the full cost of healthcare premium increases, rather than share the cost with OCTA, he said.
OCTA officials say they’ve offered to help lower the maintenance workers’ healthcare costs by providing them the same healthcare plan as all other employees at the transportation authority.
Union leaders have said they know the strike will impact the public, but that residents can call on their elected leaders to negotiate in good faith – and that actions like this help lift everyone’s wages.
“They can call their elected officials, and they can tell their elected officials who sit as OCTA directors, and they can say enough is enough … start bargaining in good faith,” Jiminez said.
“We’re obligated to fight for our members … they have the right to fight for better wages, better working conditions, better healthcare,” he added. “Everybody in this country deserves better healthcare.”
Jimnez said the union standing up for the 150 maintenance workers “sends a message that we all deserve better healthcare”
It comes after a strike was averted in February between the bus drivers’ union and OCTA, and another planned strike was averted last month involving the mechanics union.
About 100,000 people ride OCTA buses each day, according to OCTA officials.
“Approximately 85% of riders use OC Bus as their primary means of transportation and more than half of riders have a total household income of less than $50,000,” the agency said in a news release.
Zlotnik encouraged residents to check OCTA’s website for updates on bus service.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.