Since Monday, riders of AC Transit buses have experienced reduced or cancelled services. According to AC Transit, the problem is an unofficial “sickout” by drivers, protesting a new contract that went into effect on Sunday. According to the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192, there is no sickout and their drivers are reporting for work.

AC Transit’s Clarence Johnson, manager of media affairs, told Berkeleyside that 133 of 1,750 employees did not report for work today. He could not predict what will happen in the coming days. “We hope they’ll come to work,” he said. “But there’s no rhyme or reason to it.” Johnson expressed frustration with the union’s insistence that there is no sickout, when the numbers not showing up to work are so high.

At the beginning of July, the AC Transit board of directors imposed a new labor contract that alters work rules and raises health insurance costs, after failing to reach agreement with the union on a new deal. Last Friday, a judge in the Alameda County Superior Court ordered the two sides to submit to binding arbitration, with a ruling expected at the end of July. The ATU agreed not to disrupt service pending arbitration. The union’s chief negotiator, Claudia Hudson, told the San Francisco Chronicle that drivers were staying home because of work rule and scheduling changes, or because they were assigned routes for which they had not been trained. AC Transit calls those statements “false”. The ATU had not returned Berkeleyside’s call at the time of writing.

The new contract is designed to cut costs by nearly $16 million. Prior to the new contract, AC Transit was projecting a deficit of $56 million for the two-year period ending in June next year. The union claims it offered savings of $9 million in year one with further reductions in future years. AC Transit calculated the proposed union savings at less than $3 million.

Riders are certainly having a hard time because of the dispute. One Berkeleysider wrote, “To be clear, this is seriously impacting scores (or more) of Berkeley commuters. On most days this week all of the normally scheduled rides were cancelled except the last (latest) one. If you don’t live near BART (the case for most AC Transit riders) and wanted to get home before 8:00 you were seriously inconvenienced.”

What disruptions are other Berkeleysiders facing?

Update Claudia Hudson, chief negotiator for the ATU, told Berkeleyside that AC Transit’s numbers on missing drivers are suspect. “I’m not sure of their numbers,” she said. “AC Transit is not being honest with the public and not being honest with the media.” She repeated the union’s assertion that there is no sickout.

The problem, Hudson said, is that AC Transit introduced a new service schedule last Sunday unilaterally. “You don’t know where the kinks are,” she said. “This is the first time in 31 years that AC Transit has implemented the services the way they have.”

Photo by lensovet/Wikimedia Commons

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...