AC Transit bus drivers and mechanics have been working under an imposed contract since July 18. Friday lawyers for their union were in an Alameda county courtroom asking a judge to lift that contract and put things back as they were before the 18th. Lawyers for AC Transit were there, too, arguing their side. The judge said she will decide Monday at the earliest.
AC Transit says it has to close a projected $56 million budget deficit over the next two years, and that it had to impose a contract for a quick $16 million savings.
In the meantime, drivers say they will continue to work.
"We said we were going to work, we're working," ATU Local 192 president Claudia Hudson said.
A key legal question is whether either side broke the rules of an agreement made with another judge. When the contract expired with no deal, both sides agreed to go to binding arbitration with certain rules in the meantime.
"The rules are that we don't strike and that the district don't impose," Hudson said. "We have not striked, we are not on a sickout, we are working, but the district has imposed."
"What we were saying in the courtroom today is how does the district get away saying the union can't strike, but at the same time it can impose?" union attorney Margot Rosenberg said.
But AC Transit says the union is staging an organized sickout, causing service disruptions.
"Riders are experiencing missed buses every day because these drivers, 15 to 20 percent of them, aren't coming to work," AC Transit spokesman Sam Singer said. That's breaking what they pledged to the judge, it's also breaking really their promise as public servants to serve the taxpayers and riders of AC Transit."
"Public shouldn't suffer as a result of it. I mean, we're not a part of the conflict, we're patronizing the services and we still have places to get and things to do," rider Jayvonce Parks said. "They're talking about shutting down service on the weekend, that will be horrible. There are still jobs available on the weekends. I'm in the process of looking for a job, so it would just complicate it that much further."
AC Transit says if the judge overturns the imposed contract, it will have no choice but to lay off drivers and possibly eliminate weekend service in order to stay alive financially. The union says the absenteeism is not a sickout, but the result of sudden schedule changes by AC Transit which has caused the drivers conflicts and hardships in their personal lives.