Thursday, July 15, 2010

Could AC Transit drivers go on strike?

AC Transit today issued a statement to its workers urging them to stay on the job. Recently the agency was not able to reach an agreement with the union and it is imposing a contract on those workers. Currently the union is suing the agency trying to overturn that contract. If the court rules in favor of AC Transit, the workers could go on strike as soon as next week.

Regardless of the court outcome, nobody wins in this fight. If the union win back the benefits and old work rules, it will increase costs the agency. Because AC Transit doesn't have sufficient funding to begin with, AC Transit would have to cut costs by eliminating services, resulting in layoffs. AC Transit already plans for another round of service cuts later in the summer after the first one went into effect in March.

If the union chooses to strike, it would receive little if any sympathy from the public. A strike could have a long term negative effect to the transit system as some of the customers would go buy a used car to get around. Once they have a car, they won't go back to the bus.

Voters in the AC Transit service areas have been pretty sympathetic to the agency and have approved parcel tax increases in the past to maintain service. That attitude could change if the public believes that the workers are not willing to make concessions to save services. In San Francisco, there will be a measure on the November ballot that would end the automatic wage increases to Muni drivers. Muni drivers have refused to make concessions twice, whereas other unionized workers in San Francisco have made various concessions including furloughs.

This economic crisis is deep and severe enough that all prior projections about populations, jobs, and tax revenue probably have thrown off course permanently. We need a new business model that can sustain transit services in light of declining revenues. Labor costs is an important factor, especially as labor costs in the Bay Area have grown faster (while productivity has declined) than the rest of the nation during the last decade. Of course, we cannot forget that the Bay Area has made many bad transportation decisions during that decade. Too much money has been spent on wasteful projects and not enough money has been invested to maintain essential services.

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