OAKLAND -- Starting Sunday, AC Transit will launch revamped routes and restore some of the service hours the giant East Bay bus agency was forced to cut when it ran short on cash several years ago.

But behind the celebratory service rollout, acrimonious labor negotiations between AC Transit and the union representing 1,600 drivers and mechanics are again approaching a boiling point.

Members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192, who are nearing the end of a court-ordered, 60-day cooling-off period that averted a strike, have boycotted driver sign-ups for both the new and existing bus routes.

The unions argue the changes violate the terms of the cooling-off period. Earlier this week, they asked an Alameda County judge to slap AC Transit with fines and an injunction.

The court-ordered 60-day cooling-off period in the acrimonious labor dispute between AC Transit and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192 will end on Dec.
The court-ordered 60-day cooling-off period in the acrimonious labor dispute between AC Transit and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192 will end on Dec. 22. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group Archives)

Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo denied the union's request on Wednesday, and AC Transit management has assigned drivers to operate the revised routes and schedule beginning Sunday.

The question is, will drivers show up?

After AC Transit's elected board imposed a contract in July 2010, dozens of workers staged a "sick out," which forced the agency to cancel dozens of routes.

But with the court-ordered strike ban in effect until 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 22, the transit agency isn't expecting a similar action.

"We absolutely expect our employees to come to work as they as are scheduled," AC Transit spokesman Clarence Johnson said.


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ATU Local 192 President Yvonne Williams could not be reached. But she said in a recorded message that "operators who were signed up will be required to report to work" until the cooling-off period ends.

Williams also said the union is preparing to file an unfair labor practices lawsuit against AC Transit.

Contract talks are scheduled to continue Friday and Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

The revised and revamped routes and schedules will restore 15,700 service hours a year to AC Transit's lineup, an addition of less than 1 percent to the 2 million hours it currently offers.

AC Transit carries 171,000 rides on an average weekday, many of them without cars and dependent on buses to get around.

Sunday's service upgrades came out of operational efficiency studies and more than a year of public hearings.

Changes include converting confusing circular routes into linear lines, more consistent hours of operation and increased frequencies on some lines.

The agency will also introduce new and expanded routes, with upgraded service to the Silliman and Pacific Research centers in Newark.

A new line between Union City and Fremont -- Line 200 -- will run every 30 minutes from 6 a.m. to midnight on weekdays and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends. It includes stops at the Union City and Fremont BART stations.

The improvements themselves are not in dispute between the union and the agency.

According to court documents filed Tuesday, the workers object to what they characterized as AC Transit's "unilateral" decision to use a computerized roster or scheduling program.

The union also says the agency bypassed the traditional Drivers' Committee, which has historically played a major role in making schedule decisions. Drivers choose among the available slots based primarily on seniority.

The scheduling and other changes "represent a significant change in working conditions" and violate state law mandating good faith bargaining, the union's legal team wrote in its complaint.

But the union participated in meetings involving the scheduling for more than a month and had agreed to the changes before it "inexplicably and unreasonably withdrew" its support at the last minute, countered AC Transit lawyers.

The agency and the union have been in contract talks since March. The negotiating teams have twice reached an agreement, but union members voted down both deals.

Bus drivers have said they are upset with shootings and stabbings on the bus system, inadequate break time and proposals requiring employees to start paying a portion of their medical insurance premiums.

AC Transit bus drivers earn an average of $54,000 annually in base pay.

The contract union members rejected offered workers a 9.5 percent pay increase over three years, and a continuation of not having to pay anything toward their pensions.

Under the deal, workers would have started paying for the first time toward their health insurance -- $70 per month for Kaiser family coverage in the first year, $140 per month in the second year and $170 per month in the third.

Reporter Denis Cuff contributed to this story. Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773 or Twitter.com/lvorderbrueggen.

timeline
June -- Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192's contract with AC Transit expires.
August -- Union members vote down first tentative agreement.
Oct. 2 -- Union members vote down second tentative agreement.
Oct. 14 -- Union issues 72-hour strike notice.
Oct. 23 -- Per Gov. Jerry Brown's request, an Alameda County Superior Court judge orders a 60-day cooling-off period, during which the union cannot strike and the agency cannot lock out workers.
Dec. 10 -- Union files court challenge to AC Transit's route and schedule changes set to go into effect on Dec. 15, saying they violate the terms of the cooling-off period.
Dec. 11 -- Alameda County judge denies union's request for an injunction.
Dec. 13-17 -- Contract talks scheduled.
Dec. 22 -- Cooling-off period ends at 11:59 p.m.
Source: Bay Area News Group research

ac transit: New Service
Here are the highlights of AC Transit's expanded and improved services that go into effect Sunday:
n New linear routes replace confusing circular routes.
n More consistent service hours across days, nights and weekends.
n New and expanded lines, including service to the Silliman and Pacific Research centers in Newark, and improved service between the Union City and Fremont BART stations.
n Increased frequency and service hours on a number of lines.
n Elimination of "shopper shuttles" on the Line 300 series along with other lines and line segments that have low ridership and/or confusing route patterns.
n A new Line 200 in Fremont and Union City will run every 30 minutes from 6 a.m. to midnight on weekdays and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends. It replaces Line 333, with more direct service to employment centers, shopping areas and other key locations.
n For route descriptions, times and other details, go to www.actransit.org.
Source: AC Transit