South Bay Transit Workers Vote to Reject VTA Offer, Clearing Way for Strike

Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority operators voted Wednesday on the South Bay transit agency's "final" offer to resolve wage and pension issues. (Dennis Yang/Flickr)

Updated 1 p.m. Thursday, June 20

Unionized Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority workers voted overwhelmingly to reject the South Bay transit agency's "last, best and final" offer to resolve wage and pension issues, clearing the way for a possible strike next week.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 265 members voted 912-92 to reject VTA's offer, according to the transportation authority. The results were announced Thursday.

"The last, best and final offer that they finally gave us to give to our membership was the same proposal that they passed across the table at least the last six times in negotiations. So we question their motivation to get this thing done," said John Courtney, recording and financial secretary for ATU Local 265, which represents VTA workers that include bus and light-rail operators, mechanics and dispatchers.

ATU Local 265 voted on March 20 to authorize a strike. The union must provide a 72-hour notice before striking.

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“We were hopeful that after all these months of negotiating that ATU union members would see this offer as fair and equitable, ultimately avoiding a strike,” Teresa O'Neill, VTA board chair, said in a statement.

The transit system, which has about 120,000 riders a day, offers bus and light-rail service. If workers strike, bus operations would be the agency's biggest focus. It wouldn't be able to operate light-rail service due to the training needed and safety requirements.

"Because VTA believes that a work stoppage would significantly impact public transportation and would be detrimental to the public’s health, safety or welfare, VTA plans to appeal to the Governor’s Office to request a 'cooling off period' in the event a strike notice is received," the agency said in a statement.

The two sides have been negotiating for nearly a year, said Brandi Childress, VTA spokeswoman.

"The last, best and final offer from the VTA" includes an 8% wage increase and a 3.1% lump-sum payment over three years intended to offset a pension contribution that VTA is asking union members to put toward their benefit, Childress said.

Courtney said on Twitter that the wage increase was below the industry standard and that workers would then have to make permanent pension contributions.

Currently, the ATU is the only bargaining unit at the VTA in which most members do not fully contribute to their pension, Childress said.

Clarification: The VTA said in a previous statement that it "has already appealed to the Governor’s Office to request a 'cooling off period' to prevent ATU from engaging in a strike." The agency now says it "plans to appeal to the Governor’s Office to request a 'cooling off period' in the event a strike notice is received."

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