Bus strike: GET board meets to consider union proposal

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - With the city's bus strike in its second week, a closed meeting was held Tuesday to consider a new union proposal.

Golden Empire Transit District board members first met in open session to take public input, then they held a closed meeting to consider the proposal from the Teamsters.

Union drivers, mechanics and other support staff went on strike July 15, unhappy with pay and the part-time status for more than half of their GET drivers. The union was asking for a 4 percent wage increase every year over a three-year deal.

GET spokeswoman Gina Hayden said last week that the company is working at a deficit, and, "We just don't have the funds to give them what they're asking for."

The union offered a proposal last Friday during a negotiating session. That proposal was taken under consideration by the GET board, and the board provided instruction to the GET negotiating team.

Tuesday morning, Teamsters Local 517 Secretary-Treasurer Chester Suniga wouldn't give out details of the latest proposal, but driver Gordon Hart said he's not happy with what he's heard.

"They want to give us a 3 percent, but you know we had agreed to a 4," he said.

Suniga said he had made a presentation to the members about the latest proposal, but he wouldn't say what's in it. "We didn't want to open that door because we have to make sure it's a solid proposal," he told Eyewitness News. "We don't want to get their hopes up high."

At the GET board meeting, three members were present, and two participated by teleconference. In the open session, several members of the public spoke up.

"One of the biggest things is leadership and management with the company," Benjamin Weigel complained. "As I said at the last board meeting, many of the drivers are more than willing to come back if the executive staff is gone. That's how bad it is."

Rowena Odom said she really hoped the strike ends soon, because her mother depends on GET buses five days a week.

"She's 80 years old, she likes to be independent, and I don't want to see her independence change because of this," Odom said.

Marching outside before the GET board meeting, driver Colette Shadle also hoped the strike would end as soon as possible, because she worries about the riders.

"I just want it to be known it's them that we're aware of, their situation, and that we're mindful of that," Shadle said. "And, I hope that this comes to an early conclusion so we can get back to taking these people where they need to go."

Shadle says she's been with GET since October, and she's one of the part-time drivers. She thinks they're asking for a fair deal.

"I think the things that we're asking for are very minimal. A 4 percent raise is only a 50-cent raise," she said. "I just believe there's enough in the budget to give us a 50-cent raise."

Neither GET nor Teamsters officials will comment on the terms of the proposal or what the GET board decided Tuesday. The next step will be to schedule a meeting of both negotiating teams.

Union membership will ultimately need to approve any deal, as will the GET board.