Local News

Monday, Jul 14 2014 10:50 AM

GET bus strike under way

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    GET bus drivers and mechanics represented by the Teamsters union picket the downtown GET bus terminal in Bakersfield. A strike started at 12:01 a.m. July 15, the day this photo was taken, bringing to a halt GET public bus transportation in Bakersfield.

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  2. 2 of 9

    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Early July 15 at a time when many GET bus riders would start gathering at the downtown bus terminal to start their commute, GET bus drivers and mechanics represented by the Teamsters union form a picket line at the terminal. A labor dispute has brought GET bus public transportation to a halt as a strike went into effect at 12:01 a.m. July 15.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Alejandro Perez and Guillermina Baez wait for the GET bus on Chester Avenue early July 15.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    A man has a bench to himself at the GET bus terminal in downtown Bakersfield Tuesday morning. A strike by the Teamster-represented GET bus drivers and mechanics starting at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday has halted GET bus service. The man was not waiting for a bus.

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  5. 5 of 9

    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Raymond Dannunzio has had heart surgery and suffered a broken back in a vehicle accident. He says he uses the GET bus about three times a month for doctor appointments and on average he uses the GET bus three to four times a week. He doesn't know what he is going to do if the GET bus drivers go on strike. At a Monday morning press conference held at the GET offices, GET spokeswoman Gina Hayden, not pictured, announced GET had been informed by the union that the bus drivers were planning to strike Monday at midnight.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Tiffany Montgomery takes the early Kern Regional Transit bus from Taft to Bakersfield. She says she uses the GET bus all day to get to work and to school. She says many others who ride the Kern Regional bus into Bakersfield also use GET bus to get around Bakersfield. She is concerned about how an imminent GET bus driver strike will affect her and others who ride the GET bus.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Bettye Williams uses the GET bus often and is doing her grocery shopping early in anticipation of a strike by the bus drivers. Next week, if the strike continues, she says she'll go to her Bible and God to help her get past the difficulties of not having bus transportation.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    The GET bus station in downtown Bakersfield is busy with activity July 14 with people coming and going on the public bus service. Bus drivers went on strike at 12:01 a.m. July 15.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Golden Empire Transit spokeswoman Gina Hayden announced that GET had been informed by the bus driver union that they were planning to go on strike Monday at midnight. GET provides public bus service for Bakersfield.

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BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

A six-month-old labor dispute pushed Bakersfield to its first bus strike in 34 years Tuesday..

The union representing 257 bus drivers and mechanics at Golden Empire Transit District said its members walked off the job at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday after failing to reach agreement with management on raises and some drivers' classification.

Fixed-route service stopped indefinitely, and no drivers showed up for work Tuesday to keep any lines going. The district continued its curb-to-curb paratransit service for about 60 customers with the most urgent medical needs.

Impacts were also expected for passengers of Kern Transit, the county-run regional service that also employs members of Visalia-based Teamsters Local 517. Instead of using GET's downtown transit center and thereby crossing a possible picket line, it planned to pick up and drop off customers behind the Rite Aid Pharmacy at 23rd and H streets.

Both sides of the labor dispute appeared to dig in their heels for what GET and the Teamsters said will disrupt the lives of 20,000 metropolitan Bakersfield customers, most of whom are believed to depend on the bus for transportation.

"This is going to be devastating for our customers and to our community," district spokeswoman Gina Hayden said at a Monday morning news conference. She said the two sides remained "far apart" despite marathon contract talks Friday and Sunday between GET and the Teamsters.

The union made its first detailed public statement since January's start of negotiations on a three-year contract to replace the one that expired in March but had been extended through Monday. It said members are holding out for a 4 percent wage increase each year of the contract "to bring wages more in line with what professional drivers receive in other cities."

The Teamsters said it was also pressing GET to reclassify drivers considered "parttime" regardless of the number of hours they work. It said these "second-class citizens" earn less money than those classified as fulltime, and has proposed moving seven drivers each year to the better-paid ranks "with the goal of eventually eliminating this two-tier system."

"They are not making any outrageous demands," Secretary-Treasurer Chester Suniga wrote, referring to GET's union members. "They just want to be treated fairly and make a decent wage and benefits for themselves and their families."

GET would not discuss details of the contract talks, saying the district and the union had agreed not to negotiate publicly. But Hayden responded to a reporter's question about the allegation drivers earn less here than elsewhere, saying living expenses are lower in Bakersfield and so wages can't be compared across regions. She also said the bus system's future revenues are uncertain.

No resumption of talks is scheduled.

GET rider Bettye Williams, a former professional cook and security guard, did her shopping Monday in preparation for the strike. She said she sides with the drivers.

"They have families, they have babies, they have kids," she said. "(GET officials) need to raise the wages up."

Another GET regular, former truck driver Raymond Dannunzio, said he relies on the bus to get to doctor appointments.

"It's going to affect me in a serious way," he said, adding that he is looking into alternative transportation for medical services.

"This is bad. Twenty thousand people ride these buses every day."

The district may not offer refunds to customers with monthly passes if the strike lasts only a couple of days, Hayden said. But if it goes on much longer, she added, refunds may be issued.

GET's last strike extended three months before ending in October 1980.

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