The demonstration from Teamsters Union Local 572 moved just down the road from Santa Clarita City Hall on Valencia Boulevard, to McBean Parkway, with the strike from Santa Clarita Transit drivers now entering its fourth week.
Local 572 notified the city of Santa Clarita it was going on strike, following 12 months of stalled negotiations with MV Transportation. The company touts itself as the largest privately owned passenger transportation contracting services firm in the country, in a statement on its website announcing its partnership with the city.
MV, which operates nationally, moves more than 110 million passengers a year, and about 3 million annually in and out of Santa Clarita, through its various contracts. But since Oct. 9, there hasn’t been much movement in city transit centers or at the bargaining table.
The company largely stayed silent in the months leading up to the union’s vote and throughout the strike itself, but a statement issued in June from Lea Campos, director of marketing and communications for the company, said MV was disappointed that its drivers rejected “several comprehensive proposals to our valued union employees.”
On Thursday, the company broke its silence again and issued the following statement in an effort to address the discussion of the offer to drivers:
“MV Transportation has been working to find a mutually agreeable contract with our valued union employees for over a year,” Campos wrote in an email. “We continue to seek such a contract and have offered record wage increases that average 18% over four years and recognize the challenges posed to all of us by recent high inflation. Our goal continues to be to work through the remaining gap with our employees and the city as quickly as possible.”
The drivers contend that the company is not negotiating in good faith, and the union’s president urged the city to become involved in negotiations, as the national passenger-service company has told the union that there simply isn’t any additional money in the city’s contract for wages, according to Lourdes Garcia, president and general counsel for Local 572.
A message left with Garcia Thursday was not returned.
The company has not responded to the union’s claims, and city officials have said numerous times that they do not plan to get involved in negotiations.
Garcia said at the last Santa Clarita City Council meeting — which was packed with union drivers wearing their blue work T-shirts — that the city is benefiting from a contract negotiated in 2018 prior to very significant inflation and other expenses that have significantly increased the cost of business, such as the pandemic.
The city is in the second year of a two-year option with MV Transportation that runs until July 2024, according to an email from Carrie Lujan, communications manager for the city. Each option was negotiated with a 3% increase — an automatic cost adjustment to account for anticipated cost increases.
The city is not paying MV Transportation for the duration of the strike, according to city officials.
The city has partnered with MV since 2008, and in 2018, it entered what was at the time projected to be another 10-year deal — a four-year contract with three two-year options.
Since the strike, the city has contracted with Transit Systems, a San Fernando Valley-based charter bus company, to try to fill what gaps it can.
Ridership data supplied by the city indicated its transit services have been growing in popularity based on the year-over-year numbers.
In the weeks since the strike has started, the costs have grown, but seem smaller for the city in comparison to the full cost of the contract with MV, which includes the maintenance of approximately 100 vehicles, based on information shared by city officials and MV’s website.
The city has declined to comment on whether there’s a time frame in which it would become involved in negotiations or seek another contractual provider should MV continue to not provide its contracted drivers.
The new contracts don’t cover the city’s commuter services — buses that run weekdays in the mornings and evenings to places like the San Fernando Valley, West Los Angeles, downtown Los Angeles and LAX. Those services have been suspended since Oct. 9.
The city tracks ridership as one-way trips provided as opposed to unique individuals, Lujan said. If the year-over-year commuter numbers are any indication, the popularity of the city’s commuter transit services are on the rise.
Not including local or dial-a-ride services, which MV also contractually provides, the city gave 19,973 rides on its commuter buses in September 2022, and 23,347 this past September — an average of more than 1,100 one-way trips a day for the Monday-to-Friday line, a 16% increase over the previous year.
In October 2022, there were 21 days of commuter service and 24,354 trips. The numbers for October 2023 had just under 4,800 trips in about five days. Those numbers could have been impacted by numerous reports at the end of September of a pending strike.
“The city determines which emergency routes to operate, the service frequency and hours of operation,” Lujan wrote in an email Wednesday to explain how the temporary services are being negotiated on behalf of the city.
An emergency declaration was issued shortly after the strike was declared, authorizing City Manager Ken Striplin to negotiate temporary contracts.
“They are adjusted as needed, based on available Transit Systems resources,” Lujan added.
The city’s daily cost for its contract with Transit Systems on Oct. 20 was $22,445, according to contracts shared by the city.
“The city is currently operating limited all-day service on (Route Nos.) 1, 2, 5, 6 and 12,” Lujan wrote. “Additionally, we are operating school day service on (Route Nos.) 621, 623, 626, 627, 634 and 640.”
Prior to the strike, Santa Clarita Transit offered 11 all-day local routes and four commuter lines.
Updated information about the city’s changing bus services is available at: santaclaritatransit.com/2023-mv-bus-driver-strike-schedule.