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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 3:05 p.m., Friday, May 30, 2003

Bus contract talks break off

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Bus drivers are not threatening to strike yet, but their union, frustrated by what it described as weeks of fruitless negotiations, halted labor talks with the company that runs the city bus service, O'ahu Transit Service.

Hawai'i Teamsters and Allied Workers Local 996 has been in twice-a-week negotiations with the transit company since May 6 in an effort to settle a new three-year contract. The current contract expires June 30.

But the union negotiating committee broke off talks last night, said Mel Kahele, Local 996 president, because the meetings were "a waste of energy."

"It seemed like we were getting nowhere," he said today. "We held firm on our cost factors and the company held firm on all their proposals."

Kahele said the union is most upset over the reduction and elimination of bus routes that he said the city directed the transit service to implement.

"The Teamsters union has made several attempts to work jointly with OTS management to get the monies needed from the city administration so that routes and service hours are not cut," Kahele said. "To date, they have had no success with city officials."

The transit service proposed freezing wages, reducing some medical benefits and vacation days, shortening the work day by 30 minutes and eliminating two paid holidays, Kahele said.

The Teamsters have not presented a formal wage proposal to the company, Kahele said, but did suggest that if company contributions to pension funds were increased, then "reasonable" wage increases of 2 percent per year would be acceptable.

Transit service marketing director Marilyn Dicus would not comment on contract specifics, but said no routes were being eliminated.

Service in some areas has been reduced, however, because bus schedules are being "fine-tuned."

"We are bargaining in good faith and we welcome the resumption of negotiations when they are ready to come back to the table," said Dicus, a member of the negotiating team.

"It is a disappointment that they chose to break off negotiations at this point."

Kahele said he hopes the two sides can come back to the bargaining table, perhaps sometime next week.

The union represents 1,350 drivers, mechanics, clerks and some supervisors with the transit service.

On Wednesday, the city council budget committee approved a budget that increased adult bus fare by 25 cents. The council’s vote on final approval on the budget is scheduled for Wednesday next week. Kahele said he does not think bus riders will see the increase as unfair.

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.