Union official: GET board rejects offer, strike to continue

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - The city's bus strike will continue without an end in sight after bus officials rejected the union's revised demands, and the union turned down a Golden Empire Transit offer.

Negotiation teams for both GET and the Teamsters Union met Wednesday morning. But before noon, union reps told members there was no deal.

"Unfortunately when we met with them today the offer that they were considering yesterday was rejected," Business Agent Gary Jenkins told the strikers. He said GET came back with a new offer. "And, in our opinion it was nothing that we'd even bring back to you guys."

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

Then, Friday, union negotiators offered another proposal. That was considered by the GET board of directors Tuesday afternoon. They apparently rejected that, and sent their negotiating team in Wednesday morning with a new offer.

"We were talking at 4 percent, lowest we'd go is right around 3 percent," Teamsters Secretary-Treasurer Chester Suniga told Eyewitness News. He said the GET director had a new offer, "She came in substantially lower than that." He would not say exactly what the offer was.

That's when the business agent came back with the update for striking workers, picketing in front of the GET office.

"At this particular point, strap up your boot straps, and let's go to walking," Jenkins said. The group of workers cheered.

"I'm actually really disappointed," GET worker Jeremy Chapman said. "The offer that we offered the company was considerably lower than what we wanted, and the company rejected it."

GET spokeswoman Gina Hayden said the agency's offer reflects what they can afford.

"The proposal from the GET negotiating team was reasonable and fair within the confines of the budget," she said. "The union negotiating team refused the proposal, refused to take it to their membership for a vote, and refused to discuss arbitration."

Hayden has said GET's funding in the near future is uncertain. "Three- and 4 percent raises could very well mean reduction in service and layoffs," Hayden said. "That's the bottom line." She also said GET is sorry the riders are in the middle of the labor dispute.

"It's unfortunate that management is not considering our passengers," driver Frances Rubio argues. "We feel very bad for our passengers."

Some 250 GET bus drivers and mechanics are striking. And some say it's also a real hardship for them.

"While we're out here striking, some of us are losing our apartments or whatever," Billy Jean Villarruel said. "And she (the GET director) has no love for us."

Union secretary Chester Suniga says they hoped the talks would be successful.

"We met with them and were hoping that this would be a good faith move on the company's behalf, and obviously we went in a completely different direction," he said. "We went backward."

Suniga also told Eyewitness News the GET negotiating team had asked Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez to not attend the talks on Wednesday morning, and she did not. Perez had helped get the two sides back to the table last week.

Both sides say either one can ask for new talks, but none have been set up.

Driver Jeremy Chapman says the strikers are committed to their cause.

"Everybody's willing to stand out there and do the right thing," he said. "We're going to be out here, and we're going to stay out here until we think we get what's right, what we deserve."