ORANGE, Calif.—A tentative deal was reached on Feb. 15 between the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) and a union representing OC Bus drivers, avoiding a strike by the drivers that was set to take place on the same day.
The agreement was reached after 22 hours of negotiations that began the afternoon of Feb. 14 and ended Feb. 15 at around 11 a.m.
The final meeting was a “last ditch effort” before the strike that was supposed to begin at 12:01 a.m., according to Teamsters Local 952, the union representing the 600 drivers. A state mediator was involved in an attempt to help the negotiations.
“We are very happy that both sides worked together in good faith to find resolution and avoid any disruption for those who rely upon OC Bus,” OCTA Chairman Mark A. Murphy in a statement.
“We still have to seek final approvals, but I’m happy to say that our buses, driven by our outstanding coach operators, will continue to run, helping get our passengers to the places they need to be throughout Orange County. We believe this tentative agreement rewards the excellent work of our coach operators while remaining responsible to taxpayers.”
Exact details of the deal reached are not set to be released until after the deal is fully approved, though wages and breaks for drivers in between routes were among the concerns.
The agreement came after the opposing sides had met about 40 times to negotiate a new contract after the drivers’ original contract ended in April 2021.
A strike would have had a substantial impact on residents who rely on the bus, according to OCTA, as around 85 percent of riders use the OC Bus as their primary source of transportation. Additionally, half of the riders have an average household income of less than $50,000.
The union said it was pleased with the offer, which included “wage increases, bonus pay, and critical contract language addressing meal and rest breaks” for the drivers.
“I am so proud of our negotiating team,” Local 952 Secretary-Treasurer Eric Jimenez said in a statement. “They weren’t going to budge on fair and humane issues that have been overwhelmingly important to our members.”
“[The drivers] take great pride in their jobs and the service they perform,” Jimenez added. “The last thing any of us wanted was to disrupt bus service and have our members on the picket line. We are all very happy we were able to avoid the strike and bring our members a contract worthy of the invaluable service they provide to Orange County.”
Prior to the deal, OCTA reached out to the governor, asking him to appoint a board to investigate the labor dispute, which would have prevented the strike for at least seven days. The governor’s office had not responded as of Feb. 14, according to an OCTA spokesman.