The union representing Southern California Rapid Transit District bus drivers, charging that its members are overworked, sued the RTD Friday in an effort to force the hiring of more drivers.
The suit is partly in response to a barrage of criticism of drivers in recent months as a result of a highly publicized rash of accidents and reports of drug abuse by drivers, a union spokesman said.
"Obviously, we've had this safety problem . . . and we feel that what hasn't been publicized is the fact the RTD service has been deteriorating over the last year or so and the union is the only one trying to get them to improve it," said Goldy Norton, a spokesman for the union.
Drivers have argued that the stress created by working long hours and overtime days on overcrowded buses has contributed to accidents, absenteeism and other problems.
The suit, which seeks a preliminary injunction to halt the overworking of drivers, says the RTD has "failed and refused to hire sufficient bus operators to properly serve the huge number of passengers now served. . . ."
RTD officials acknowledge that they overestimated a drop in ridership last year when fares were increased from 50 cents to 85 cents and let too many drivers go. Ridership dipped only slightly and the district in recent months has been hiring additional drivers to correct the error.
But RTD officials said the district, which had 4,665 drivers as of last week, is now close to the number of drivers required.
The suit filed by the United Transportation Union charges that the district is overworking full-time drivers and using less costly part-time drivers in excess of the 30-hour-a-week limit established in a labor contract approved last year.
RTD spokesman Jim Smart declined to comment on specific allegations in the suit.