CA: GET Officials Summoned to City Council Meeting

Aug. 05--Two board members of Golden Empire Transit District have been summoned to speak at next week's City Council meeting to discuss the public bus system that on Tuesday entered its fourth week of a strike.

In an Aug. 1 letter to GET from City Attorney Ginny Gennaro, board members Norris Ledbetter and Howard Silver, both appointed by the Council, were asked to present an oral report about GET activities and be prepared to answer questions at the Aug. 13 meeting.

The letter notes Ledbetter and Silver "serve at the pleasure of" the council. It says Ward 1 City Councilman Willie Rivera made the request.

Rivera said in an interview his concerns about GET extend beyond the strike to bus route changes and other issues. But he added he would take the board members' updates off the Council agenda if the strike is resolved before the meeting.

"I think it's very unfortunate that we still don't have a bus running on the streets," Rivera said Tuesday.

"From a leverage perspective," he said, the city might have an opportunity to help bring the strike to a close. "If that means putting more pressure on our appointments or potentially making changes," the council may be in a position to do that, he added.

GET said it hopes to discuss the proposal with the union at a meeting 9 a.m. Wednesday.

GET spokeswoman Gina Hayden said the board remains committed to ending the strike.

"I think the City Council certainly can request that (its) appointees provide an update, and I know that our elected officials are getting calls from their constituents, and we absolutely understand that. We're getting calls, too," she said.

Also Tuesday, GET issued a news release spelling out for the first time its weeks-old bargaining position with Teamsters Local 517, the union representing the more than 250 bus drivers and mechanics who walked off the job July 15.

The previous contract expired in March, and employees walked off the job July 15 after contract negotiations under way since January stalled.

According to GET's news release, workers would receive raises of 2 percent this year and 2.5 percent next year under a two-year extension of the existing contract.

GET said it is also offering some employees step increases ranging from 4.5 percent to 17 percent.

GET had previously declined to disclose its bargaining position, citing an agreement with the Teamsters. Last month, however, the union issued a news release saying it seeks 4 percent raises each year for the next three years, plus a gradual elimination of the two-tiered system that pays some drivers on a scale higher than others.

"We really didn't want to negotiate this in the public," Hayden said, "but we reached a point where there's all kinds of information out there and we just felt it was time for us to give the public our numbers."

The Teamsters did not respond to requests for comment.

GET reiterated its offer for binding arbitration, which would put employees back to work during discussions with an outside arbiter who would issue a ruling on the dispute after hearing both sides' cases. The district also renewed its offer to put returning employees back to work.

Additionally, GET said it will renew customers' monthly passes for free once the strike is over.

GET serves a customer base estimated at 20,000 bus riders.

Copyright 2014 - The Bakersfield Californian

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