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By Felix Adamo / The Californian
BY RUTH BROWN Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Prior to a closed session meeting among Golden Empire Transit District's board of directors, community members stressed to them the importance of ending the ongoing bus strike.
The board met in a special meeting Saturday at the GET administration building, 1830 Golden State Ave., and took public comment before closing its doors.
GET's negotiators and its striking employee union's negotiators reached a tentative agreement on wage increases Friday.
Members of the union still must vote on it before the contract is finalized and the strike ends.
Arlene Bonner, 79, of Bakersfield, rides the bus every week and said during the meeting she thought it was "ridiculous" the strike, which started July 15, had not been resolved.
Bonner believes GET's board of directors should have a limited number of terms they may serve, as they have been unsuccessful in ending the strike.
Currently, as long as a board member is reappointed every four years, they may serve as long as they want, said GET spokeswoman Gina Hayden.
"I know you probably don't want to hear this, but I do believe there should be term limits for board members," Bonner told board. "...Why don't you let some new blood come in?"
Additionally, Bonner said she believes GET's Chief Executive Officer Karen King is paid too much. Between 2012 and 2013, King got a 4.4 percent raise, which upped her total pay, including benefits, to $252,297.65, according to previous reports.
By comparison, the union's original request was for a 4 percent wage increase for each year of the contract and a gradual end to the district's two-tier classification of bus drivers.
Tanner Thompson, 31, of Bakersfield, rides the bus daily and said the strike has disrupted his ability to get to work because he uses a wheelchair.
"I'm very angry with the company and I'm begging you to come up with a new contract," Thompson told board members. "You are arguing you can't afford a 4 percent raise, but you can get (adminstration) their own raises."
He said every time he gets on a bus he receives a "warm welcome" and every driver is helpful to him.
"I think every driver needs more than a 4 percent raise," he said. "Every driver is like my family and you're hurting my family by doing this."
In order for the tentative contract to be approved, Teamsters must have a 50 percent, plus one, yes vote from its 257 members. Union negotiators plan to recommend the strikers take the new deal.
GET's next scheduled meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at its administration building. GET could schedule a special meeting earlier, however, if there is a new development in the strike.