Phoenix bus drivers were back on their regular routes Friday, March 16; while Tempe bus drivers returned to their jobs on Saturday. Drivers in both cities approved their collective bargaining* agreements, ending a six day work stoppage that had disrupted service on several bus routes for thousands of Arizona residents in both cities for six days. The strike by Tempe based drivers affected nine regular bus routes, four express routes and five free ‘Orbit’ circulator routes, as well as ASU Flash routes. The strike by Phoenix drivers affected twenty two routes in Phoenix, and up to 600 drivers. During the strike buses operated on a limited schedule as the cities were unable to provide enough drivers to run all routes on their regular schedules.
Even though unions have been around for quite some time in the United States, work stoppages, or strikes, are not particularly common for the average American worker. Whether you love them or hate them, there is no doubt that great strides have been made in favor of the the American workers over the years due to union involvement, not the least of which is the forty hour work week. Many of the gains made by organized labor, and indeed unions themselves and their rights to organize and negotiate under collective bargaining, are now under attack by legislation proposed in states including Wisconsin, Ohio and Arizona.
In Phoenix and Tempe, as is often the case when workers go on strike, wages were not the biggest issue. The Arizona Republic reported that, prior to the strike being called, twenty of twenty six points in the most recent contract had been agreed upon. According to a supervisor in Mesa, who spoke on Monday, March 12th; the main points of contention in the case of Phoenix and Tempe were health care, the number of paid days off per year, and providing rest rooms for the drivers to use at each end of their route.
Reactions to the strike by riders was mixed. Confusion was apparent on Monday morning, the first regular work day of the strike, as commuters seemed unsure of what to expect. At the Tempe Transit Center riders transferring between the Light Rail and several bus routes seemed fewer than on other days. A woman who identified herself as an employee of Macy’s suggested she might simply take some paid time off until the strike was over. “I don’t want to do it,” she commented. “But I don’t want to have to wonder whether I can get to work on time either.”
On Route 48, after being informed by a transportation supervisor there would be a detour so that the bus did not pass by the Tempe bus yard where drivers were picketing, a rider asked, “Why are they doing this? Don’t they know people have to get around on the buses?”
Another rider immediately turned around and told her, “They have a perfect right to strike, and I support them.”
Many factors, including contentious negotiations, can cause tempers and emotions to run high. On Tuesday morning at the Tempe Transit Center, a driver explained to some passengers that someone had tried to board several buses to elicit comments from drivers and passengers. The assumption was that they might have been a reporter, but no one was certain. As she drove off in her bus on Route 48, a person standing on the curb snapped several pictures of her.
On the same route Wednesday morning, driver J.H., who normally drives Route 72, made a comment about drivers crossing the picket line, and indicated drivers were being shuttled from the Tempe Arts Center to the bus yard for their own safety after a driver’s car was scratched while parked at the yard. Passenger A.T. commented to B.J. of Mesa, another passenger, that crossing the picket line wasn’t necessarily something to be proud of. “Every time they do that, they weaken the union and their position.”
B.J. nodded in agreement. “Union members don’t like it when their fellow workers cross their picket lines to go to work. They used to be referred to as ‘scabs’.”**
Added A.T.: “I was union for over ten years. If you’re opposed to a strike because of some principle, I may not like it. I may disagree with you, and I may even argue with you. But if you’re opposed to a strike because it inconveniences you, that’s another story. It’s not about you and your inconvenience, it’s about the workers and their rights as employees and as human beings.”
* Collective Bargaining – Negotiation between organized workers and their employer or employers to determine wages, hours, rules, and working conditions.
** Scabs – An employee who works while others are on strike; a strikebreaker. A person hired to replace a striking worker.
Phoenix Public Transit Settlement Announcement
AFL-CIO Official Website
Amalgamated Transit Union (Phoenix and Tempe Local 1433)
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