Officials: Phoenix bus drivers reject contract; strike set

PHOENIX (AP) A Phoenix bus drivers union announced a bus strike late Thursday after drivers rejected a labor contract, officials said. The walkout comes as the area gears up for the college football championship.

A city transportation official said that the drivers voted against the transit company's offer Thursday.

The union called for the work stoppage to start at midnight, Public Transit Department spokesman Lars Jacoby said.

He said that Transdev - a city-contracted transit company - told his office that the drivers rejected the company's ''last and best offer.''

A strike will likely disrupt bus service throughout Phoenix with thousands of college football fans expected to be in the city leading up to Monday night's national championship game between Clemson and Alabama in suburban Glendale.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433 officials had called for a midnight Monday walkout after contract talks stalled. But both sides returned to the negotiation table Tuesday.

Phoenix Public Transit Department had already warned bus riders to prepare for a strike beginning Friday on Transdev's 34 routes.

''We are very disappointed that our operators are being instructed by ATU 1433 to strike,'' Transdev said in a news release. ''Our focus now will shift in preparing to provide valley riders with the service they have come to expect.''

Jacoby said his department will work with Transdev to provide contingency service on affected bus routes. He said that Transdev's contract requires them to run a reduced level of service, although doing so requires time for the company to get personnel trained and in place.

Union officials said sticking points in the negotiations include bereavement time and uniform allowances for the bus drivers plus a tiered payment system and vacation time.

Transdev officials said they offered a fair contract providing a 3 percent annual wage increase retroactive to July, if accepted without a work stoppage.

Negotiations began in April and resumed last month after a six-week hiatus.