City bus strike enters week 2

Santa Clarita bus drivers demonstrate back in Octoberin front of a city transit center. Katherine Quezada/ The Signal
Santa Clarita bus drivers demonstrate back in Octoberin front of a city transit center. Katherine Quezada/ The Signal
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As the city of Santa Clarita prepares to enter its second week of a strike involving the company it contracts with to run Santa Clarita Transit, Texas-based MV Transportation, and Carson-based Teamsters Local 572, questions linger for riders, drivers and the city.  

An emergency declaration issued at 7:20 p.m. Tuesday by City Manager Ken Striplin stated: 

“The aforementioned conditions constitute the existence of conditions presenting a real and present concern of extreme peril to the health and safety of persons within the city of Santa Clarita, which conditions are likely to be beyond the control … of the city, and therefore requires … temporary contractual services.”  

Shortly thereafter, the city was able to sign a contract for drivers from Transit Systems, a charter bus company that has been servicing the Los Angeles County and neighboring counties since 1991. The city then announced a reduced slate of services on its transit website, SantaClaritaTransit.com.  

“The bus driver strike continues (Friday),” according to the city’s website. “Santa Clarita Transit service during the strike includes: limited routes 5/6 and 12 – no schedule, wait times approx. 60-90 minutes; limited school trippers (on Routes) 627, 623, 634, 626, 621 and 640; and Limited (Dial-A-Ride) for urgent medical appointments only.” 

The city then issued an update on Twitter that said its Dial-A-Ride service, which primarily helps seniors and those with special needs, is being canceled for the weekend. It’s scheduled to resume Monday.  

Representatives for MV Transportation have not responded to any requests for comment since the strike was declared. The company issued a statement once workers declared their intent to strike in September, which stated the company was disappointed by the union’s decision after the company has offered “several comprehensive proposals” since October 2022. 

The company continued this week to disregard requests for comment. 

The union’s drivers have called the company’s offers insulting, and after the company cited its contract with the city of Santa Clarita as not providing enough money for the raises drivers have requested, the drivers have tried to put pressure on city officials to get involved.  

“Santa Clarita is a wonderful place to live because of the services provided by our transit riders — the housekeepers, gardeners, restaurant workers and more,” read a statement Wednesday by Lourdes Garcia, president of Teamsters Local 572. “The local economy is clearly robust as evidenced by the fact that tax revenues are up more than 50% since the MV Transit contract was negotiated. City leaders need to either amend the MV contract to reflect the high inflation rates or let MV out of the contract to allow it to be re-bid.” 

When questioned about the potential of the city getting involved in the negotiations, a statement from Carrie Lujan, spokeswoman for the city of Santa Clarita, indicated the city entered into a two-year option for the extension of MV’s services in July 2022, about three months before the negotiations stalled, which meant the company is under contract to provide services to the city until July 2024. 

The most recent offer to employees for drivers starting out was $19.75 per hour, with a 25-cent hourly increase after one year and additional increases of varying amounts after each year. 

City leaders have declined to date to weigh in on the matter. 

A union official speaking on background Friday said the union was hopeful actions it has planned for next week will help bring a resolution sooner than later, which is what everyone wants. However, the person also said that drivers are ready to dig in for a prolonged strike if necessary. 

While Lujan reported the city’s two-year extension calls for 3% cost increases for each year, 2022-23 and 2023-24, union leaders have said that’s not even close to covering the cost of inflation during the same time period and called on the city to renegotiate. 

Consumer prices have grown by 18% since 2020, according to a September 2023 report by California’s Legislative Analyst Office.  

Drivers have questioned what the city did with its additional COVID-19 funding, since they haven’t received wage increases in more than two years.  

City officials Thursday responded that “100% of (COVID Transit Funds were) used to pay for the operation of the city transit service (MV’s contract) and offset revenue losses resulting from decreased ridership and not collecting fares during the pandemic,” according to an email from Lujan. “The city also used federal and local funding to install driver barriers and UV sanitation systems to our entire bus fleet for the safety of drivers.” 

A question to the city regarding any contractual provisions with MV that allow for a reduction of the contract cost or the cost of providing new services in the event of a prolonged strike was not answered Friday.  

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