Deal Cut in East Bay Transit Dispute

     OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - The Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District and its union, though locked in a labor dispute, have settled a lawsuit over how drivers are selected for new bus routes.
     The district used a computer to assign drivers to the new routes - without input from union representatives.
     Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192 sued on Friday, and the transit district has agreed to consult the workers on the new assignments, according to the union's attorney.
     "The district assigned the work without the participation of the union's Drivers Committee," said attorney Margot Rosenberg. "That committee puts a human face on the process and it's cost neutral to the district. There was no reason to leave the drivers out of process."
     The 1,600 members of the union and the transit district have been arguing since March, when the union rejected an offer that would have increased their pay by 9.5 percent over three years, but required employees to begin contributing to their health plans.
     On Oct. 14, the union issued a notice of intent to strike on Oct. 17, but a court-ordered 60-day cooling-off period was declared on Oct. 16. The order is in effect until Dec. 22.
     The union said in its lawsuit in Alameda County Court that the transit district violated the cooling-off period by instituting the route changes.
     The changes convert circular routes into linear routes, expand service to some areas and create more consistent route times.
     The drivers were not fighting the changes, but the way they were made.
     "These are assignments that make a difference in real people's lives and there were assigned by a computer," said attorney Rosenburg, of the Leonard Carder law firm.
     According to the complaint, other changes were made, including assigning work to shop stewards, rather than allowing them to bid on it.
     "All of these changes upset seniority and drivers' expectations with regard to their work schedules, and represent a significant change in working conditions," the complaint states. "As a result, drivers were required to either participate in a sign-up that was conducted unlawfully or have their work assignments dictated by AC Transit. Many union members will suffer a financial loss with the imposed schedules. In addition, many members will suffer a significant disruption in their lives in that the imposed schedules significantly interfere with members' childcare and other responsibilities."
     The lawsuit also claimed that the transit district's unilateral changes harmed the union in the eyes of its members and stalled the efforts to negotiate a new contract.
     The Oakland-based transit district serves western Alameda and Contra Costa counties in the East Bay Area. It is the public successor to the privately owned Key System and is a special district under California law. It is not under control of either Alameda or Contra Costa County.
     "I'm happy that the district has agreed to hold new route sign-ups in the next few weeks," Rosenburg said.