Bus Strike Expected to Complicate Commute for Thousands in SoCal

The first bus strike in Orange County in more than two decades disrupted the commutes of thousands of riders Monday after 1,100 transportation workers walked off the job.

Companies sought to help employees cope with the strike by setting up car pool hot lines and other resources for people who have no transportation. Transit officials braced for plenty of confusion and frustrated residents.

About 70 percent of Orange County Transportation Authority riders don't have access to a car and half are members of families making $22,000 a year or less, according to the agency's chairwoman, Carolyn Cavecche.

The strike began at 12:01 a.m. Saturday after union leaders rejected a salary increase and a 30-day contract extension for the drivers.

Only 31 of the county's 81 bus lines were still running, most of them short routes and rail feeders operated by a subcontractor. One of the major routes still running was being driven by managers who are licensed bus operators.

"We're really hopeful this won't be a long-term situation. We want the union to come back and talk to us," said transit spokesman Joel Zlotnik.

Transportation Authority board members were meeting Monday morning at the transit headquarters in Orange to discuss their next move, and members of the union picketed outside, but no negotiations were scheduled.

"I would hope that they would make some movement and get it done," said Patrick Kelly, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 952. "If not, it's going to be a long, hot July."

The drivers are demanding a 14 percent pay raise over three years, arguing Orange County is one of the most expensive places in the state. Drivers now make between $13.72 to $21.42 an hour. A three-year contract offer of 3 percent pay increases each year was rejected.

One major sticking point has been which drivers will benefit most from proposed wage increases: Labor leaders want to concentrate raises among more senior drivers to reward service; the transportation authority wants to spread the raises more evenly and give a greater portion to those lower on the seniority scale to improve recruiting.

"It's not about money, it's about where the money goes," Kelly said. "There's almost enough money there to get it settled — if they're willing to work with us on allocation."

Meanwhile, commuters and their employers were making alternative plans.

Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, the county's largest employer, set up a hot line that matches workers with car pools in their area, spokesman Bob Tucker said.

Joanna Bear, director of rooms at Surf & Sand Resort in Laguna Beach, said the company also has been organizing car pools among staffers.

"With it being high-season for our resort, we are doing everything we can to help our staffers get to work," she said.

The county's last bus strike, in 1986, lasted 12 days.