VTA train operators could go on strike next week

Bus drivers and train operators are at an impasse with Valley Transportation Authority and could be going on strike as early as next week. 

Early Thursday morning, union members voted 922-92 to reject the VTA's last, best and final offer.  What happens next is up to management, said union spokesman John Courtney. 

Light rail service in Santa Clara County could come to a temporary halt if VTA train operators walk off the job and strike. 

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 265 and VTA have been in contract negotiations since August. So far, they've compromised on 37 tentative agreements. 

“One is a cost of living increase for retirees, a flexible spending increase that we're offering. There's other things in work rules that are important to the union that we're able to come to the table on and we're just hoping we can all move forward with this offer on the table,” said Brandi Childress, VTA spokesperson.

They're at an impasse on wages and pension. We're told the average bus driver makes $35 an hour. According to VTA, they've offered an eight percent wage increase over three years and a three percent lump sum payment, spread over three years to help offset the four percent pension contribution VTA is requesting from the union.

“One of the biggest, most contentious for the union, but most compelling for VTA is the pension contribution. It's a very long term financial commitment for VTA and we're just asking in this offer that ATU contribute to their pension benefit,” said Childress.  

1,600 union employees are voting Wednesday to either accept or reject VTA's offer. A union worker posted a message on twitter saying "this offer is below standard wage increases in on our industry and not on par with the US department of labor consumer price index which rose four percent over the past year. "

If the workers reject this offer and initiate a strike, it would be the first time VTA workers go on strike. We're told they need to give VTA 72-hours notice. Then the governor could call for a cooling off period where they determine if both parties are negotiating in good faith, while studying the impacts a strike would have on service. We're told that could take a minimum of seven days. 

“Light rail would likely not run because it takes a certain operator to run those trains,” said Childress.

For Silicon Valley commuters, that means heavier traffic and a much longer trip. 

“I'll probably drive to work and it takes a little longer to drive and a little less convenience because of all the traffic in the morning. It will be bad and I hope that doesn't happen,” said commuter, Rajesh Vanka

The votes to accept or reject the the offer will be counted and revealed Thursday.