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MTS to offer contractor $1M to end bus driver strike

Board members of the Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) on Thursday agreed to offer private contractor Transdev an extra $1 million if it can end a bus driver strike by June 23.

The incentive is meant to help Transdev pay for some of the bus drivers' demands — chief among them access to safer and cleaner bathrooms, and fewer split shifts, when a workday is spread out over a long period of time with an extended, unpaid lunch break in the middle.

Bus drivers flooded the MTS boardroom to speak directly to the transit agency's policymakers. The work stoppage — now in its fourth week — is the longest San Diego public transit strike in recent history.


Veronica Ortiz, an 18-year employee of Transdev, said split shifts take a toll on bus drivers' personal lives.

"We all have families, (but) we cannot have dinner together because of all the splits," Ortiz said. "I get up at 2:45 in the morning to be there at work at 4 o'clock. There's been times I'm there till 4 or 5 o'clock in the afternoon."

San Diego City Councilmember Stephen Whitburn, who chairs the MTS board, gave brief remarks after the board's closed session meeting. He said the additional $1 million for Transdev would be on top of another $21 million the board authorized in January to increase the bus drivers' pay by $2 per hour.

"We have seen a high cost of living in San Diego and a job market that has seen unprecedented wage increases," Whitburn said. "This has made attracting and retaining bus operators extremely difficult. But we need to find a resolution for both sides at the negotiating table. Our riders depend on it."

Because the board took its vote in closed session, it must take up the proposal again in open session at its next meeting on June 15 before making the offer official.


Four MTS board members voted against the offer: National City Councilmember Marcus Bush, La Mesa City Councilmember Patricia Dillard and San Diego City Councilmembers Monica Montgomery-Steppe and Vivian Moreno.

Whitburn said if Transdev is unable to restore bus service by June 23, the board could "authorize legal action." He did not specify what kind of legal action, but MTS is allowed to cancel Transdev's contract if the company fails to perform its obligations.

Such an action would have to be paired with a plan for how to replace all the bus operations currently outsourced to Transdev. That could include a new competitive bidding process, though industry consolidation has led to fewer alternative companies that could compete with Transdev. It could also be followed by a move to bring all MTS bus drivers in-house, as the North County Transit District voted to do in December.

Jose Puga, business agent for Teamsters Local 683, the union representing the striking bus drivers, was not optimistic that MTS' offer would resolve the labor dispute.

"The practice and the history has shown that even though MTS gives (Transdev) more money, it doesn't make it to the workers," Puga said. "What we were hoping to hear — and this is the community, the employees, the union staff — is that they were going to remove the contract."

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