No bus service: GET's union workers on strike

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - More than 200 union workers from the Golden Empire Transit District are on strike.

A contract between the union and GET expired at midnight. Union workers began demonstrating at the GET headquarters on Golden Empire Drive at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.

Teamsters Local Union No. 517 and GET, which provides bus service throughout Bakersfield, negotiated through Sunday night but could not reach an agreement.

Union members say the points of contention are with wages and the part-time status for more than half of GET union members.

GET said Tuesday that it employs 70 full-time drivers and 147 part-time drivers, calling it a way "to balance revenue and expenses ... within the realities of today's economic conditions."

The part-time status is clearly explained when employees are hired, according to GET, and there is no promise of full-time employment when part-timers are hired.

GET said part-time employees receive medical and dental benefits, holidays, sick days, vacation and reimbursement for education expenses.

Union members are drivers, mechanics and other support staff. Mechanics and "servicers" are hired as full-time employees with full-time benefits, according to GET.

GET said its starting pay for part-time drivers is $14.23 per hour. GET's top pay rate is $22.23 per hour.

Angel Escandon, a union shop steward, told Eyewitness News they want better treatment for GET part-time drivers, called "flex operators."

"There's a big gap between the flex operators and full-time operators, as far as money-wise," Escandon said. She also said they want better benefits for part-time drivers.

"We're united, and I'm going to stand together and strong," Escandon said. "I want to work just like everybody else, but I need to make a living, also, and take care of my family."

She was picketing Tuesday morning at the GET terminal in downtown Bakersfield and said there are no scheduled negotiations at this point and that union members are waiting on GET officials to return to the bargaining table.

GET said in the Tuesday afternoon news release that "officials are prepared to return to negotiations at any time," adding that GET is "open to arbitration."