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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, July 21, 2003

Bus workers begin strike vote today

Associated Press

Drivers and other union workers with O'ahu's public bus system are set to vote today and tomorrow on whether to authorize a strike.

If workers approve a strike, Hawai'i Teamsters Union Local 996 says a strike could happen anytime in the next two to three weeks. The next negotiation session is set for Thursday.

The union is negotiating with O'ahu Transit Services Inc., the company that runs the bus system for the city, on a new three-year contract to replace the one that expired June 30 but was extended by mutual agreement.

O'ahu Transit has proposed 34 cutbacks in benefits, including the elimination of two holidays, a freeze on wages and pensions for three years and a reduction in the company's contribution to medical premiums, said Mel Kahele, the union president.

Kahele said about 100 workers have had their hours reduced and another 40 could lose their full-time jobs under the OTS proposals.

The union represents about 1,350 drivers, mechanics, clerks and supervisors at OTS, and drivers make between $15 and $21 an hour, Kahele said.

But the bus system's budget is $4.2 million lower than last year's, according to Perry Confalone, chief negotiator for O'ahu Transit.

"That's the reality we face," Confalone said. "Our bargaining position is grounded in reality."

Contract negotiations began May 6 but broke off a few weeks later because of a deadlock.

The bus system has 225,000 boardings daily.