Strike Idles Tucson Buses, Talks Grind on

     TUCSON (CN) – A daylong drizzle didn’t keep a few Teamsters from the picket lines Thursday at a downtown Tucson bus depot, as the union’s strike against the private bus company entered its sixth week.
     The Tucson City Council is split on whether Professional Transit Management, which runs the city’s public buses, should go. Its 40-odd routes serve about 20 million passengers a year on Sun Tran (city) buses. Drivers and mechanics walked off the job on Aug. 6, seeking better pay and working conditions.
     Teamsters Local 104 says driving a Sun Tran bus can be dangerous. Twenty-two drivers have been assaulted on the job in the past 13 months, the union says, and a mold outbreak at a Sun Tran maintenance shop gave some workers respiratory problems.
     Since the strike began, Professional Transit Management (PTM) has struggled to keep a few routes open. Its contract to operate Sun Tran buses ends April 30, 2016, with an option for renewal through 2020.
     The City Council on Wednesday voted to urge PTM to settle the strike and refrain from hiring temporary workers to replace strikers.
     That’s about all the council can do in the matter, Tucson spokeswoman Lane Mandle told Courthouse News on Thursday.
     Tucson’s City Charter prohibits public employees from striking, so the city itself cannot negotiate with the drivers, Mandle said.
     But because the city receives federal money to run its buses – about $17 million in fiscal year 2016 – Sun Tran employees must be allowed to bargain collectively. So the city contracts with PTM, which is responsible for hashing out disputes with employees.
     Sun Tran spokeswoman Kandi Young said the parties returned to the bargaining table Thursday with a federal mediator.
     “The hiring of temporary workers is not happening now,” she told Courthouse News. She said Sun Tran is seeking “an economical package that is sustainable long-term.”
     “This is really hard on our passengers,” she said. “We want a resolution as soon as possible.”
     Union spokesman Andrew Marshall, reached in the middle of negotiations on Thursday, told Courthouse News that the federal mediator asked both parties not to talk to the media about details.
     “Yesterday brought some action by the City Council, but we are not at a settlement stage yet,” he said.
     PTM’s parent company is Transdev, one of the largest private-sector transit companies in North America.
     The Arizona Daily Star found that “nearly half” of the striking Sun Tran drivers make a bit less than $40,000 a year in salary and $15,000 in benefits, including health care. The lowest-paid drivers make about $27,000 per year, while 75 percent of Sun Tran’s mechanics make more than $46,000, the newspaper reported.
     Even with all buses running it’s hard to get around Tucson. One retired attorney told Courthouse News that a crosstown trip, with transfers, can take more than two hours. The strike has made life difficult for some employees of the Pima County Superior Court in downtown Tucson.
     Court Records Clerk Lucia Moreno said she and others have missed some work. In the break room at the courthouse the conversation these days is often about car-pooling, asking relatives for rides, or buying a cheap car, she said.
     “You just have to find other ways to get to work,” said Moreno, who before the strike traveled at least 40 minutes each way to and from the court on Bus 8 from the city’s south side. “It’s been a huge impact on my life. It’s an inconvenience every day.”
     If the strike continues, Moreno said, she plans to “invest in a bike,” but only after Tucson’s triple-digit summer temperatures subside.

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