Orange County buses aren’t running because maintenance workers are on strike.
About 100,000 bus riders across Orange County found themselves stranded Thursday after maintenance workers called for a strike amid stalled labor negotiations with the Orange County Transportation Authority.
The union representing about 150 mechanics, machinists and service technicians accused the OCTA of walking out of negotiations, while the transportation agency said it offered maintenance workers a contract that would provide pay raises and lower healthcare costs.
Without workers to service the vehicles, buses running about 50 routes across O.C. and servicing roughly 100,000 daily passengers remain off the roads, with no comparable alternative for people who rely on public transportation.
“We understand how this labor dispute will adversely affect thousands of riders who depend on the bus system for their transportation needs,” Eric Jimenez, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 952, the union representing maintenance workers, said in a statement. “We have done everything in our power to avoid a strike. They have even rejected our proposals that would save them money on members’ healthcare. But when OCTA walked away from the table on Monday, they gave us no other choice.”
The OCTA contends labor negotiators did not “walk away” from contract talks, but that the union provided a new proposal on healthcare Monday, the last time negotiators met.
“We told them we needed time to review it, and come back on Friday to talk to us,” said Joel Zlotnik, spokesperson for the OCTA.
On Wednesday afternoon, Zlotnik said, the union notified the agency that it would be going on strike.
The OCTA has asked commuters to look for alternative means of transportation through at least Sunday, given that the union notified the OCTA on Wednesday that the strike would last 96 hours, Zlotnik said.
On Thursday, the union called for workers to picket for 24 hours at maintenance yards in Garden Grove, Santa Ana, Anaheim and Irvine.
The OCTA and Teamsters have been in negotiations since May, and a strike was averted in October after Gov. Gavin Newsom reached out to both sides and urged them to continue negotiations. But negotiations over healthcare seemed to continue being a crucial point for both sides.
“We have reached out to OCTA board members and local political leaders,” Jimenez said. “We have honored the governor’s request to return to the table and continue talks. We have asked our members to be patient and continue working with the utmost professionalism without an agreement … only to have OCTA continually refuse to bargain in good faith and disrespect us by walking out of negotiations.”
As of Thursday afternoon, there were no signs the union and the transportation agency were set to meet again to resume talks.
The OCTA contends it offered workers a 14.25% wage increase over three years, as well increasing healthcare contributions by 16% during the same time. The proposal would also include contributing 26.4% of employee wages to the Orange County Employees Retirement System.
Zlotnik said the OCTA reached out to the union Thursday morning looking to set up a meeting Friday, but it has not heard back from union officials.
“We are disappointed the union has called off negotiations and ask that they return to the table so we can reach a fair resolution that rewards our maintenance employees for their great work,” Orange Mayor and OCTA Chairman Mark A. Murphy said in a statement.
Jimenez said the union would return to negotiations, “only if there are significant changes in [the OCTA’s] bargaining posture. If not, another meeting would not be productive.”