The city of Santa Clarita’s bus drivers went on strike Monday morning, disrupting Santa Clarita Transit’s local and commuter bus services, following nearly a year of stalled contract negotiations.
MV Transportation, the company the city of Santa Clarita contracts with for public transit service, announced Sept. 15 that Teamsters Local 572, the union that represents the drivers, authorized a strike if workers felt their demands were not met.
A spokeswoman representing Teamsters Local 572 did not have any end date identified for when the demonstration would be over. Emails to MV regarding the strike were not immediately answered Monday.
At Santa Clarita Transit’s central bus maintenance facility for MV Transportation in the Santa Clarita Valley, approximately 200 bus drivers, dispatchers, customer service representatives and Teamsters officials formed picket lines in front of the two entrances to the property.
“We were in negotiations for over a year with MV, so we didn’t take a strike lightly at all,” said Lourdes Garcia, president of Local 572. “It’s just, enough was enough, we tried everything with MV and they just weren’t giving us anything that we could remotely consider as acceptable. So, that was it. We were forced to be out here and that’s why we’re here.”
The offer presented by MV Transportation did not seem to sit well with the drivers. The wages offered were $19.75 per hour to start, with an increase in pay of $0.25 after a year, a $0.10 increase after two years, another $0.10 increase after three years, a $0.15 increase after four years and a $0.75 increase after five or more years from a driver’s start date.
Garcia said that Local 572 is asking for a 9% increase for 2022, an 8% increase this year and an 8% increase in 2024. She also contended that MV transportation told the Teamsters during negotiations that the city of Santa Clarita was not providing adequate funding for the company to meet the workers’ demands.
In response to these claims, the city maintained its neutral position on the matter.
“The city of Santa Clarita is not party to the negotiations and will not engage as a third party,” read an email sent by Carrie Lujan, spokeswoman for the city. “We have a contract with MV Transportation to provide transit services. That contract was negotiated and agreed to by MV Transportation.”
The city approved a four-year contract with MV transportation in 2018 with a $23,384,136 budget set for the 2021-22 fiscal year.
A statement from MV Transportation in September said the company “presented several comprehensive proposals to our valued union employees, with our most recent offer including annual wage increases, benefit cost sharing and improved scheduling of hours, among other enhancements.”
Representatives for the union sent the following statement Monday morning ahead of the strike:
“The workers, who provide vital transportation services to the region’s students, commuters and seniors, yet are paid as little as half of what the city’s own maintenance workers and gardeners earn, have been negotiating with MV Transit for more than a year with little progress. Further, even though the city of Santa Clarita received tens of millions of dollars in COVID-relief funding for transit operations (including salaries), the city failed to appropriate these funds to their contractor, MV Transit, so Santa Clarita drivers could receive standard ‘hero pay.’”
Multiple employees, not speaking formally on behalf of the union, called the company’s proposal insulting and questioned the Texas-based company’s claim of “good faith” negotiating.
Both an MV driver and a city official confirmed both sides were notified of the strike Monday morning, when the drivers were scheduled to arrive at work.
Drivers at the picket line Monday said that current wages did not meet the cost to reside in the Santa Clarita Valley and that commuting from other cities was becoming more and more expensive as gas prices rose.
Renee Blackwell, a Mojave resident who commutes to Santa Clarita to work as a dispatcher for MV Transportation, said she wasn’t able to get to work recently because she couldn’t afford to put enough gas in her car to make the commute.
“Even paying my mortgage, I’m struggling with that as well. You know, because along with my mortgage … everything has gone up full: gas, water, everything has gone up,” said Blackwell. “And they think we’re supposed to stay at the same wages that we’re at? I don’t get it. I don’t understand.”
In response to news of the potential strike, both the city of Santa Clarita and William S. Hart Union High School District, which shares transportation services, sent out press releases last week warning residents of the impending strike.
On Monday, the school district reported that students who rely on Santa Clarita Transit services will need to make alternate plans for travel, but yellow bus service will not be interrupted. School officials also shared the following information website: sites.google.com/hartdistrict.org/alternative-transportation-res/home.
Santa Clarita Transit’s social media page on X contained several service updates, including announcements about pending limitations, during the strike.
At 6:45 a.m. Monday, it posted: “1 of 2 – Update #10 Santa Clarita Transit has been forced to expand the suspension of its services to include ALL local and tripper service, including the anticipated reduced offerings of local routes 5/6 and 12, and Trippers 628, 627, 623, 634, and 621.”
It subsequently posted: “Update #11 – Very limited Dial a Ride service is available, with priority given to dialysis and other highly urgent medical appointments.”
This is a breaking news story and more information will be added as it becomes available.