San Luis Obispo Rapid Transit Agency and its drivers have reached an impasse and will be meeting with a federal mediator on Oct. 7 in a last-ditch effort to avoid a strike, according to the leader of the drivers’ union.
“Yes, if an offer comes out of the mediation, and we don’t recommend it, and the members vote it down, then a labor action is likely,” said Lynn Swenson, secretary treasurer for Teamsters Local 381, the union representing the RTA’s drivers. “We’ve been negotiating for more than a year, and it has come to this.”
A drivers’ strike could shut down the entire RTA bus system, which provides transportation for SLO County, and would leave the area without any public transportation linking the county’s cities.
The bus drivers formerly worked for an outside private company and were brought in-house. Drivers want salaries and benefits that are closer to the pay standards of government drivers, which is much higher than what private companies pay. According to the union, drivers want their time with the private company counted toward their seniority, while the RTA wants to limit that to one year before they were brought in house.
Swenson said the county offered the drivers less than the SLO County job class listing salary range for bus drivers: $14.09 to $17.09 per hour. The drivers’ salaries currently range from $12.50 to $14.35 per hour, according to the union.
The drivers rejected the final offer from the RTA, according to Swenson, and that led to the impasse. The federal mediator will try to bring the sides to an agreement, but the arbitration won’t be binding—both sides will be free to reject the mediator’s suggestions.
SLORTA officials didn’t return phone calls from New Times.