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First Transit stoppage looms as employees mull last, best offer

EL CENTRO, Calif. ( KYMA, KECY-TV ) - A work stoppage or strike is on the horizon as First Transit and it's employees continue to not see eye to eye during current contract negotiations.

"It's been a point of kind of hearing for a number of contract now of, really, going on nine contracts of saying, hey, help us out and we'll help you out on the next contract," Flavio Grijalva, Business representative for Teamsters Union Local 542 said. "It's kind of repetitive. For the membership, they've reached that, this it is. This is the next contract and we've waited long enough. We've been waiting for you guys to help us out, this is it, we're not going any further than this."

The company has offered according to Grijalva it's last, best and final offer. Grijalva says when the employees meet again on March 26th, to vote on the offer, it is most likely to be voted down as it is not a recommended offer.

"It's going to depend on the membership," Grijalva said. "They are sticking to what they feel are the important parts. If those aren't in the contract which at this point they are not there, that's the thing. Hard to say how close we are, it's just a matter of them feeling like they are being heard."

Grijalva says while pay is involved in the contract negotiations, it's not the topic bringing both sides to a standstill.

"There a history of mechanics not having parts, not having the proper tools to repair some of the buses," Grijalva said. "We have our bus washers who have to clean the vehicles and encounter a lot of stuff that unfortunately is left in public transit. Anything from needles to dirty masks to gloves and those sorts of things. Part of this is a safety issue for our people. We want management to know we take safety very seriously."

Grijava says some busses need visors to block out the sun so that bus drivers can see properly. Other vehicles require plexiglass safety barriers for the bus drivers. Some are using shower curtains as barriers and Grijalva says that is unacceptable.

"The last contract ended on December 31st, 2022," Grijalva said. "We've been on a month to month extension while we go through negotiations. What's really important in this and it can't be stressed from our side enough, is the working conditions and having that addressed."

A strike or work stoppage would affect thousands of people in Imperial County who rely on public transportation from Calexico to Bombay Beach. A total of 38 routes across the Imperial Valley.

"Not just regular transit," Grijalva said. "It also affects people that need to be picked up for appointments or to go to the store, stuff like that. Our members know and take it seriously, they're hoping it doesn't get to that place."

This Sunday, the employees will once again review everything in the latest contract proposal, they'll vote on whether they accept it or not. If rejected, that is an acceptance for going on strike. If that happens, First Transit will be notified.

"Our goal is to try to sit down with the company, at least one more time through mediation," Grijalva said. "We never want to go on strike for the simple fact that we know it's going to affect the membership and the public, they are extremely important to us."

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Scott Gross

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