Bus union would tap wages saved during strike
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By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Capitol Bureau
The head of the union representing more than 1,300 striking bus workers says the roughly $180,000 being saved daily from the strike can go toward paying wage increases and help clear the negotiating logjam that has idled O'ahu's bus system since Aug. 26.
The bus strike entered its 11th day yesterday, with bus operator O'ahu Transit Services and the Hawai'i Teamsters and Allied Workers Local 996 agreeing tentatively to go back to the bargaining table tomorrow. The two sides have met three times since the strike began, including nearly 10 hours on Thursday.
The key sticking point has been wage increases.
The company is offering a three-year contract with no wage increases in the first two years and a contract "reopener" that allows the union to return to the bargaining table and negotiate for wage increases for the third year. The Teamsters say they cannot accept a contract with no wage increases through the life of the contract.
The Teamsters most recent official proposal seeks no increases in the first year, and 50 cents an hour in both the second and third years. Teamsters president Mel Kahele has talked about his union possibly agreeing to no wage concessions the second year, although that plan has not been formally placed on the bargaining table.
Each 50-cent-an-hour increase, according to OTS officials, could cost the company $1.5 million annually.
"They've been saving X amount of dollars by not paying any wages since we went out on strike, and the money is currently in their so-called budget," Kahele said.
But according to Marilyn Dicus, a spokeswoman for TheBus, the money is not in the company's hands. "Every month, TheBus bills the city for hours of service provided, and we are paid for the amount of service we provide and any other costs," she said. "So if we're not providing service paying for diesel, paying for wages we don't bill them."
Countered Kahele: "If that's true, what would be the problem with giving us the increase and billing the city?"
Dicus said that decision is up to the city.
Both the mayor and Council Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi have their own views on what should be done.
"We believe that this strike is going to severely depress ridership, and as a result we're going to have to compensate for the lost ridership once the strike is over in order to maintain the budget," Harris said.
"It's clear that we're going to continue to need that money. We're hoping to simply maintain services with the lower ridership."
Also likely to take a dent out of ridership is a new round of fare increases being considered by the City Council to generate $6.8 million more in revenues annually to help stave off a cut in service.
"Traditionally, every 10 percent increase in fares results in a 4 percent drop in ridership," he said.
Harris called it short-sighted to use money for wages or other recurring costs, as the savings amount to a one-time infusion of revenue.
For her part, Kobayashi said money saved during the strike could go toward paying wages, but she would rather apply it to the shortfall in TheBus budget, to restore service hours so the council need not raise fares as much as proposed.
"The first thing I would like to see the money going for is reducing the cuts, which in turn would make it so that we wouldn't have to raise the bus fares, especially for seniors and students," Kobayashi said. "The less money we have to raise, the less the increase will have to be."
In related news, Dicus confirmed that the union yesterday received the last paychecks for work performed before the strike. OTS pays its workers twice a month, but yesterday's paychecks covered a maximum of nine days of work.
The union, meanwhile, is expected to hold an informational meeting at its headquarters tomorrow afternoon to, "correct inaccuracies," Kahele said, that have been disseminated by the news media.
Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at email@example.com or at 525-8070.