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Strikes halts Santa Cruz bus service, strands 23,000 riders

The Associated Press
Published 9:55 am PDT Tuesday, September 27, 2005

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (AP) - A bus driver strike halted service Tuesday in Santa Cruz County, stranding as many as 23,000 riders.

All 37 local and highway routes were temporarily shut down as 145 drivers walked off the job to protest a contract dispute over health care and scheduling. The drivers' union said the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District agreed to a contract that solved the dispute, but its board voted it down. The district also imposed new work rules without clearing them with the union, and then refused to hear formal grievance complaints, union officials said.

"They won't talk to us and they won't let us grieve issues," said Carolyn Derwing with United Transportation Union Local 23. "So it feels like we've been forced into a strike as the only way to get them to talk to us."

Metro general manager Les White said the union reneged on agreements not to strike or oppose new work rules while negotiating the contract.

White said the transit district is open to meeting with the union to discuss the new contract, which he says is the district's best and final offer, but that no meetings are currently planned.

"The state mediator can call us back to the table at any time, but at this point in time he has not done so," he said. "The sides are pretty locked in right now."

White added that some bus routes may reopen in limited capacity on Wednesday if enough drivers break the picket line. Shuttles for the handicapped were operating. *************************************************************************************************





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