AC Transit-imposed contract stays in effect 

A new contract imposed on an AC Transit employees' union will be in effect until at least the end of next week after a judge delayed deciding on an injunction sought by the union today that would have blocked the contract.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192 had sought the injunction to block the new contract, which the AC Transit board voted to impose on the union when the prior three-year contract expired on June 30.

The imposed contract took effect Sunday.

A hearing was held today in Alameda County Superior Court on the injunction, but a decision on the matter was postponed until another hearing on July 30.

On Friday, an Alameda County Superior Court judge ordered the transit agency and its 1,600 employees to enter into legally binding arbitration, a process that could be lengthy.

AC Transit, which serves parts of Alameda and Contra Costa counties, faces a $56 million deficit by the end of the two-year fiscal period ending June 30, 2011.

The imposed contract would save the agency $15.7 million by changing overtime rules and co-pay policies for employee health insurance, and by implementing a two-tier pension plan.

Since the new contract took effect Sunday, AC Transit's outside spokesman Sam Singer said roughly 20 percent of union members have staged a "sick-out" by calling in sick to work Monday and today, leading to widespread delays on the system.

"A 'sick-out' is a terrible thing to do," Singer said. "Bus drivers ought to be driving the buses."

He said the district was "deeply sorry" for the delays and is asking the drivers to return to work.

"That's in everyone's best interest," he said.

ATU Local 192 lead negotiator Claudia Hudson said the imposed contract is endangering AC Transit passengers by making bus operators work long shifts on regular pay and drive routes they are not used to.

"AC Transit has thrown safety out the window," Hudson said. "We are working to the best of our ability with what AC Transit gave us."

Talks between the two sides began on April 1, but, "AC Transit did not come to the table with the intention of negotiating," Hudson said.  

"From day one, they've said they'd rather have us strike," she said.

Union officials have said they have no plans to strike. AC Transit's collective bargaining agreement requires arbitration when management and the union are at an impasse, and the agreement prohibits the union from striking during the arbitration process.

The injunction hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. on July 30 in the courtroom of Judge Frank Roesch.

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