With the midnight contract expiration fast approaching, Sun Tran and Teamsters Local 104 officials say that union and company representatives are putting in long hours to hammer out a new agreement.
“Both parties are working hard to come to an agreement and making steady progress at this time,” an emailed statement Friday from Sun Tran marketing director Pat Richter reads.
Karla Schumann, the local’s secretary-treasurer, said, “when you get down to the 11th hour, like we are, things tend to speed up a little bit, so that’s a good thing.”
“We’re hashing through the hard issues right now and we’ll see where we come out,” she added. “Today will be the day, we’ll find out where we stand.”
If a final agreement is not reached by midnight, Schumann said, “I would hope, that if we are diligently working at something, and we simply run out of time … that both sides would be amicable about doing would be necessary to continue that process without crippling the city.”
The Teamsters have scheduled three meetings for Saturday, but the content of those meetings will be determined by what happens Friday, Schumann said. There could be votes to ratify a new contract, votes to authorize a strike, a strike vote, or “it could be an update,” she added.
“It all depends on what goes down today,” Schumann said.
City Councilman Steve Kozachik said he has been informed by City Manager Michael Ortega that “everything is on the table,” including measures that could allow Sun Tran employees to enjoy any raises that city employees receive, something he has previously described to the Star as a "me-too" clause.
“We’ve emptied the cookie jar on the table,” he added. “What they see in front of them is everything that is available.”
The city, which cannot directly participate in negotiations, recently hired a third party negotiator to help with the talks, which started in early June. That came shortly after the approval of a three-month contract extension with Transdev, the current private manager of Sun Tran and other regional transit services. That contract runs out Aug. 31.
A company letter sent to employees on June 8 and obtained by the Star states that Transdev “regrets that our association with Sun Tran and Sun Van is ending.”
It goes on to say that a “new transportation service provider will assume Transdev’s management duties for approximately eight months.” The City of Tucson, intends to eventually put out a request for proposals for a single private operator to run the entire transit system, as opposed to the current arrangement in which a separate private operator — RDMT — manages the Sun Link streetcar.
The letter, sent by Transdev regional Vice President Katrina Heineking, says the company “plans to earnestly participate in this process as an applicant.” The city expects all current Sun Tran employees to remain “in their current positions,” according to the same letter.
The Sun Tran bus system was paralyzed by a 42-day strike in the summer of 2015, after contract negotiations broke down.