Phoenix bus drivers protest contract offer at City Hall

Phoenix bus drivers rally at City Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015 in protest of their contract negotiations with Transdev, the company that manages some bus routes for the city. (Photo by Becca Smouse/Cronkite News)

NOTE: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified a Valley Metro spokeswoman criticized in a statement attributed to a union leader. The statement was made about Valley Metro spokeswoman Maria Hyatt.

Phoenix bus drivers marched through City Hall Tuesday morning to protest the latest contract offer from the company that manages a portion of city bus routes.

Transdev’s latest contract offer was deemed “unacceptable by any means,” according to Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433 President Bob Bean, who said the city needs to work with an American contractor.

“They don’t care about the operators and they don’t care about the city,” he said of the French company.

Transdev operates 34 routes in the Phoenix area. The union is scheduled to vote on the contract from Oct. 7 to Oct. 9. A few dozen drivers attended the protest.

Bean said the offer included an ultimatum on the wage package for workers. He said Transdev has threatened to cut wages by half a percent if the union doesn’t accept the offer by October 15 or goes on strike.

“Threat. Ultimatum. Blackmail. One of the three, all of the same,” Bean said.

Bean and other union workers also have issues with the proposed swap from paychecks to paycards. The paycard would act as a debit card, but workers are concerned of the service charges they could face.

Union workers also are angry that the contract offer eliminates passes for family members and replaces the uniform allowance with a uniform voucher, according to Bean.

“The uniform allowance has been in the contract for 20-some years,” he said.

Bean called on the City of Phoenix Transit Department’s public information officer Maria Hyatt to “take her blinders off and start dealing with this foreign company that all they want to do is keep filling their pockets with profit off the backs of the operators here in town.”

“The city of Phoenix refuses to do anything about it,” Bean said. “Well, something has got to give because the people of Phoenix don’t have to go through this every year and a half or two years, and our operators don’t have to go through this every year and a half or two years.”

Matthew Heil, spokesman for the City of Phoenix Transit Department, said the city will continue to use Transdev.

“We go through a negotiation process each time those agreements expire,” Heil said. “It does have its challenges, but one of the benefits is if we have some sort of issue with one contract or bus service, we still have bus services running in other parts of the city.”

Heil said Transdev is the best financial choice for the city.

“One of the things we’re needing to look out for is the value to the taxpayer,” Heil said. “This contract is one of the best for the value of the tax dollars of the taxpayers.”

Domonique Christian rides the city bus in Phoenix daily, but said she fully supports a strike if the union decides to pursue one.

“They deserve to be treated a lot better because of what they deal with on a daily basis,” she said.

The union has voted to authorize a strike, but Bean said, “That’s going to be the last resort. We don’t want to go on strike, we don’t want to put the people of Phoenix out, and we don’t want to put our operators out on the street.”