Local News

Friday, May 19 2006 02:14 AM

GET bus drivers may strike for better pay

BY DAVID BURGER, Californian staff writere-mail: dburger@bakersfield.com

Public bus drivers in Bakersfield are on the brink of striking, employees said Thursday night.

Workers at Golden Empire Transit convened a closed-door meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn where they met with their union representatives, Teamsters 517.

The half-hour meeting ended in shouts and arguments, but all employees surveyed coming out of the meeting said that workers would overwhelmingly vote to strike.

A large portion of the meeting concerned pay and rules when striking.

"I'll be the first one (to strike), holding the biggest sign," said Angel Escandon.

Because GET employees work different shifts, union members have until about 6 p.m. today to vote to strike or accept the offer.

If 50 percent, plus one vote, of employees vote to strike, employees will strike. No strike date has been set.

"We just want to be treated fairly," said Jamie Defoor.

"We want better working conditions," said Chuck Carter.

Employees -- composing primarily of drivers and mechanics -- said they were rejecting an agreement brokered by their union representatives and GET management, led by Chester Moland, chief executive officer.

Efforts to reach Moland Thursday night were unsuccessful.

The employees cited pay that didn't reflect increases in the price of living and disrespect as main reasons for striking.

"We get treated like third-class citizens," Robert Vegas said.

Richard Rodriguez said he had been an employee for more than 20 years, and had only seen his pay rise $6.

One driver with five years experience, Danny Monty, said morale of employees was low and that "people are not happy."

"Everyone I know is voting 'no,'" he added.

One reason for discontent is that their direct boss, who they said is David Trimble, is leaving the company at the end of the month due to what they called differences with upper management.

Many of the employees said they are boycotting today's employee appreciation party as a sign of protest.

There are 70 full-time drivers and 125 flex- or part-time drivers, driver Yolanda Hamen said. The maximum hourly pay rate for a full-time driver, she said, is $17.46, while the maximum pay rate for part-time drivers is $11.09.

Teamster rep Gary Jenkins refused to comment, saying that negotiations between GET and the union are private.

Golden Empire Transit District was formed in 1973 and serves the Bakersfield metropolitan area.

GET has an active fleet of 80 buses plus 14 GET-A-Lift buses which are all fueled with clean burning, compressed natural gas.

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