The Associated Press State & Local Wire
Nearly 950 striking bus drivers in Phoenix and Tempe could be going back to work this week.
The president of the union representing about 640 striking Phoenix bus drivers said major progress has been made in negotiations with their employer. Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433 president Bob Bean said he’s hoping a final deal can be reached to end the strike that began last Saturday.
About 640 drivers for Veolia Transportation Services could vote on a contract Thursday and go back to work Friday. Some 310 striking Tempe drivers reached a tentative agreement Wednesday with Veolia, but their vote has been delayed until Friday.
A union official said it would be logistically impossible to host votes on the Phoenix and Tempe labor contracts on the same day.
If approved by the Tempe drivers, they could go back to work on Saturday.
Veolia has been negotiating a collective-bargaining agreement for the union drivers since May 2010. The two sides have been haggling over wage and benefit terms such as sick-leave accrual, retirement benefits and health care coverage.
The Phoenix and Tempe drivers operate 50 of the 101 routes served by the regional Valley Metro transit system, which serves more than 200,000 bus riders daily. Veolia is required to provide 60 percent of normal service levels in the event of the strike.
The Phoenix city council was expected to vote March 21 on whether to loosen “liquidated damages” Veolia pays when bus service is late, vehicles break down or drivers miss trips, according to The Arizona Republic.
Veolia paid nearly $380,000 in such damages from July to September, but under the proposed revisions, Veolia would have paid only $100,000. For November 2010 to June 2011, the company paid $1.2 million in liquidated damages.
The liquidated damages are not supposed to be considered as fines or penalties, but rather an inducement for Veolia to provide on-time transit service. If the measures used to assess damages are too stringent, the city could violate federal transportation guidelines.
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