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Drivers vote on O.C. bus contract

July 16, 2007|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

Orange County transit workers began voting Sunday on a three-year contract that was expected to end the weeklong bus strike and put most buses back in service by midweek.

Negotiators for the Orange County Transportation Authority reached a tentative settlement Saturday with the Teamsters that would give drivers an $18.2-million increase from the previous contract.

Hundreds of the 1,100 striking drivers had already voted by noon Sunday and were thought to be voting in favor. The ratification is scheduled to conclude this morning at 8:30, an hour before the OCTA's special board meeting to consider the pact.

"As soon as the OCTA board approves it, operations will ramp up," said Patrick D. Kelly, secretary-treasurer for Teamsters Local 952. "I'll bet those buses start rolling late [Monday] morning."

By late Saturday night, hours after negotiators signed off on the agreement, drivers had stopped picketing and maintenance workers were returning to work at garages in Anaheim, Santa Ana and Garden Grove fueling, repairing and cleaning the idle buses. The 250-member maintenance workers union was not on strike -- their contract expires in September -- but they chose not to cross picket lines.

Kelly said his drivers could have returned to work earlier, but OCTA officials didn't want the buses to start operating under only a tentative agreement.

Joel Zlotnick, an OCTA spokesman, said he expected full service to be restored by Wednesday.

The proposed contract gives raises of 10.8% to entry-level drivers and 11.7% to drivers with five or more years of experience. The actual increase in wages and benefits negotiated amounted to an increase of one-tenth of 1% -- $200,000 more than the OCTA offered before the strike began. But Kelly proclaimed victory Sunday.

"It's a defining moment for us," he said. "We only had three people cross picket lines out of about 1,400 workers. We made our point; hopefully the [OCTA] will begin to listen to our grievances over working conditions and they will start to take us seriously."

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