RENO, Nev. (AP) - Officials with the Regional Transportation Commission on Wednesday expressed hope that a contract dispute with 200 union bus drivers and dispatchers can be resolved and a strike avoided.
"We are hopeful that an agreement can be reached," Greg Krause, RTC executive director, said in a written statement.
Members of Teamsters Local 533 will vote Sunday on what operators of RTC Ride call its best and final offer.
The current contract was to expire at midnight Wednesday, though
both sides have said workers could remain on the job with ongoing
Transit Management of Washoe, a private company that operates the bus service, said the company's contract proposal reflects needed changes to operate in a tough economic environment.
But union officials counter it would strip workers of negotiated work rules in place since 1996.
"It's pretty bad," said Mark Tracy, secretary-treasurer and principal officer for Teamsters Local 533.
Michael Steele of Transit Management said it's important for the company to regain control of work rules in areas such as absenteeism, safety and employee conduct.
"Tough economic conditions put a strain on resources for many businesses and transit systems are not immune," Steele said.
Steele said the company has offered workers a 9 percent wage increase over three years and increased hourly pension benefits from $1.10 to $1.20 by the third year.
Drivers currently earn between $13.62 and $18.05 per hour.
The union has argued for a 32 percent increase in wages and pension benefits of $3.20 an hour by the third year, Steele said.
Drivers and dispatchers authorized a strike by a nearly unanimous vote before contract negotiations began two months ago, Tracy said. A strike could occur any time after midnight tonight.
"Obviously, I have the right to strike at that point, as does the company have the right to lock employees out, though why they would do that, I have no clue," Tracy said.
The union was willing to continue negotiating wage issues, but Tracy said removal of union work rules is unacceptable.
"We've always negotiated our way through (wage issues), and we were still validly negotiating," Tracy said. "They want to gut the contract for employees' rights. If we agreed to this, these employees might as well not have a union."
The company's final offer was issued Monday after three days of mediator-assisted negotiations.
Sagging sales tax revenue, which provides the bulk of RTC RIDE's income, recently forced the RTC to reduce bus service by nearly 7 percent beginning next October, with additional cuts of more than 20 percent possible in the future if the economy doesn't recover, Steele said.
Drivers last went on strike during the summer of 2002. That dispute, which crippled the bus lines for weeks, involved picket lines at the downtown transit center, employee lockouts and replacement drivers being brought in from out of state.
Steele has said the company has contingency plans to keep buses running if workers strike.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)