The city of Santa Clarita’s bus strike is now one month along, and there’s no new offer and no sign of capitulation from the drivers in sight.
A small but steady group of them moved a makeshift protest from Constellation Drive to right down the street from Santa Clarita City Hall last week. The proximity might have increased their visibility to city officials, but Santa Clarita isn’t discussing any of its communications with MV Transportation, its contracted transit services provider.
The drivers of Teamsters Local Union 572 have made efforts in recent weeks to increase their visibility — before the change of venue for their protest, workers showed up en masse to an Oct. 24 City Council meeting to urge the city to get involved.
While there’s been “constant communication,” the city has remained hands-off with the situation while riders’ frustrations grow and the city cobbles together a makeshift transit operation with a charter bus company from Sun Valley.
Every City Council member expressed concern for the plight of either the riders, the drivers or both at their Oct. 24 meeting.
“I want to make it clear: The city certainly understands the issues revolving around the labor negotiations between the workers and MV Transportation,” said City Manager Ken Striplin, in addressing some of the comments. The city supports the work the drivers have done over the years and the challenges they have faced, he added.
“We have been in constant communication with MV Transportation and trying to encourage resolution to the issues,” Striplin said, adding that that’s the extent he could comment on the situation, during last month’s City Council meeting.
For riders and drivers trying to figure out when this might end, the answers are very much subject to interpretation of the city’s contract with the “largest privately owned transportation company in North America,” which is how MV identifies itself on its website.
During the strike, Transit Systems is providing a portion of the services the city previously offered, not including the commuter service — a service that normally provides about 20,000 trips back and forth outside the Santa Clarita Valley each month — which has been cut because of the strike.
The new services, which are far fewer, run much cheaper for the city.
The first day of the contract with Transit Systems cost about $20,000 for the city and by Oct. 20, with a few routes added, the invoice was about $22,000.
That price covers six routes for limited, all-day service and five school routes to accommodate students.
Prior to the strike, the city offered 11 all-day local routes and four commuter lines, and the city’s contract with MV Transportation was expected to cost the city this year, based on public records obtained by The Signal, approximately $65,753 per day, based on the estimate of the current cost of the city’s contract with MV as agreed to in 2018.
The city’s contract with MV provides for the city to seek other services, with no penalty or cost to the city, if MV is unable to provide services due to a “force majeure,” which includes a work stoppage or strike for which MV is not responsible.
The contracts do not identify any timeline that would compel either side to walk away due to this breach of service, but if the work stoppage is prolonged, there is language that would allow both sides to end the deal.
Lourdes Garcia, general counsel and president for Teamsters Local Union 572, has said on many occasions that the deal the city agreed to was a good one for the city, not just in terms of its service.
The city locked in its transit services in 2018 at a negotiated price of about $87.6 million for four years, with three two-year options — the city is in the second year of its first two-year option — which the city planned to be a 10-year deal, according to the request for proposals it issued in 2017.
“I’m here today to ask for your assistance in ending the strike,” Garcia told the council Oct. 24. She said she was addressing past comments from city leaders who stated they weren’t involved in negotiations.
“You are part of the problem. We’d like you to be a part of the solution,” she said. “You were paying pre-pandemic prices, and that’s not sustainable to provide fair wages.”
She said the city had two options, if it wanted to be fair to its drivers: The city could pay MV more money, which could be intended as a pass-through to the drivers and other workers, as agencies in the cities of Los Angeles and San Diego have done. Or the city could put the contract back out to bid.
The city declined to comment on the feasibility of either option, but both would likely cost the city millions.
“You cannot pretend you’re not part of the problem when you know you’re holding them hostage to this prepandemic contract,” she said Wednesday in a phone interview.
She also said Wednesday she’d be happy to meet with MV to discuss “movement,” but they haven’t heard much back.
“We know there’s movement from our position, but we haven’t moved because we’re not going to bargain against ourselves,” she added. “But there’s something. We know there’s movement to make.”
Neither MV nor city officials will discuss any claims from union officials that the city won’t let the company out of the bad contract.
MV represents 250 public transportation agencies and moves 110 million people each year, according to its website.
The transit giant hasn’t said much outside of a few sparse statements to let the public know the company was disappointed by drivers’ decision to strike, after almost a year of negotiations that started in October 2022.
A statement from company spokeswoman Lea Campos issued Nov. 2 indicated the company has made a “record wage increase offer” that was not accepted by the union.
“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.”
Updated information about the city’s changing bus services is available at: santaclaritatransit.com/2023-mv-bus-driver-strike-schedule.