Glimmer of hope in ending the Tucson bus strike

Glimmer of hope in ending the Tucson bus strike

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The Teamsters Local 104 union and Sun Tran will meet for an all-day session on Tuesday to see if the two sides can come to an agreement to end the 33-day-old walkout.

Regardless of the outcome on Tuesday, the two sides have also scheduled another all-day meeting for Thursday.

Marathon sessions do not insure an agreement is imminent, but "the fact we're talking is a sign of hope," according to Andrew Marshall, spokesman for the Teamsters.

Marshall would not say how far apart the two sides still are, but conceded "we are closer than we were."

Meanwhile, the number of Teamsters members at the annual Labor Day Picnic in Reid Park seemed much higher than in past years.

This is the 19th year for the picnic.

The topic of conversation this year centered around the strike and whether it may end soon.

Tucson City Councilman Paul Cunningham, who represents Ward 2, said even though the way Sun Tran is managed and operated will probably change in the future, "right now, I want to get the drivers back to work."

Cunningham tried to prod the city to step away from the transit operations in 2010, but it was rejected by the majority of the council.

He said he believes "there's lots of models out there. If there's a systematic change we need to make, that's great."

The City of Tucson pays $45 million annually in a subsidy to keep Sun Tran on the road, $30 million of that for 43 fixed routes which are the subject of the strike.

There has been talk in the past of the RTA, passed by voters in 2006, taking over the transit system which is ever increasingly becoming a regional system.

Still, a vast majority of the passengers are Tucson residents.

If the RTA takes responsibility of the system, it would need voter approval and the city want's a share of voting power which matches its ridership.

That's a sticking point.

Meantime, frustrations are apparent at the Ronstadt Transit Center downtown, the hub for a majority of riders.

"Too many people are suffering, not just the riders," says Ward 1 Councilwoman Regina Romero. "It's very important to conclude and end this strike."

Romero has asked for an agenda item on Tucson City Council study session this week, where all members can discuss any options they might have for ending the strike.

Teamsters members have asked for high wages, and better safety.

Some have criticized the union members for asking for more money, but union members pointed out that their wages have been frozen for three years and under the present offer from Sun Tran, they'd be frozen three more.

"How would any person trying to raise a family deal with that with the rising cost of living," said Fred Yamashita, chair of the Pima Area Labor Foundation. "Is that acceptable? For most people it's not acceptable, to union workers either."

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