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Aug 4, 2014 1:47 AM by Sam Salzwedel

Bus drivers may go on strike Thursday

TUCSON - Sun Tran and Teamsters Local 104 are still working to avoid a bus strike.

Saturday night, the union overwhelmingly voted down Sun Tran's contract offer. The current agreement expires at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.

Andy Marshall is the chief union negotiator. He said he was told it was Sun Tran's "last, best and final offer." He would not speculate if that was really true.

"I don't control that, they do," Marshall said. "That's what they told us."

The union's main complaint is the removal of a pay progression that was eliminated in 2012. New drivers make $13.30 per hour. Before August 1, 2012, on their first anniversary, they got a raise to $14.14 per hour. On their second anniversary, they made $14.97. They made $15.80 on their third anniversary and $18.72 on their fourth anniversary, when the pay was capped, according to Marshall.

Sun Tran has offered pay raises, but will not re-instate that progression, according to Marshall.

Even though the City of Tucson pays for about half of Sun Tran's budget, it has nothing to do with negotiations. Sun Tran employees do not work for the city.

Tucson pays a company, Professional Transit Management/Veolia, to operate Sun Tran.

Because Sun Tran receives federal funds, the employees have to have the right to strike, according to federal rules. Federal grants pay for about 10 percent of Sun Tran's budget.

User fees pay for about 25 percent of the budget, and the Regional Transportation Authority accounts for about 15 percent.

Sun Tran's budget has been increasing the past few years. City Councilman Steve Kozachik said the contractor should be able to make a deal with the funds it already has.

"The burden shifts to Sun Tran management now to pay for fuel, to pay for maintenance, operations, to pay for the routes, to pay for employees, which is what we're talking about now," Kozachik said. "All of that comes under the umbrella of the budget that they have to work with."

Tucson risks losing federal funds if the City gets involved in the negotiations.

Mathieu Hawkins is a Sun Tran driver who has worked full-time almost 3 years. He is still at the lowest rate of $13.30 per hour, just like everybody else who was hired after him.

"I care about my passengers, and I don't really want to do this," Hawkins said. "But I don't have a choice, because I can't live like this anymore."

Irene Jordan rode the bus to get groceries Sunday. She said there is nowhere affordable to shop near her home.

"I don't think that's right that they would go on a strike and leave all these people not being able to go and do their shopping, go to their doctor appointments," Jordan said. "We got to have this."

Marshall could not say if there would be a strike Thursday.

"That remains to be seen," Marshall said. "We have an extension until Wednesday night at midnight. We have offered to go back to the table to continue talking. We are going to try everything within our power to reach a settlement that doesn't entail the buses not rolling. We understand how important that is to the people who rely on them."

Sun Tran has also stated it is willing to keep negotiating.

The union also includes other workers, including mechanics, customer service agents and other employees.

The negotiation has nothing to do with Sun Link, the streetcar.

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