The contractor for the city of Phoenix bus service is scrambling to meet its contractual obligation in the face of a bus strike that has quieted nearly 70 percent of the city's bus routes and extended into at least two adjacent communities.
Members of Veolia Transportation and Amalgamated Transit Union local 1433 are scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. Tuesday for further negotiations between the two sides. City and federal mediators will be present.
The strike that began Saturday has idled routes in Phoenix, Tempe and Glendale, affecting up to 90,000 daily bus commuters.
Mayor Greg Stanton told the union and company on Monday, "Make one-way tickets to Phoenix and don't you dare have your return flights home until this thing is resolved."
In its contract with Phoenix, Veolia Transportation is obligated to maintain its service at a minimum 60 percent.
So, even in a strike, 60 percent of the routes will keep running.
"So according to the contract as I have been briefed by our staff, they have a set period of time to gear up to 60 percent. That time has not passed," Stanton said.
He said Veolia has 15 days to get service up to the minimal operating level.
But union members say there's another catch.
"If the city of Phoenix did not change their liquidated damage provision or fix the major issues they are having with the city of Phoenix, this contract that they want us to vote on will be no good," said Mike Hennessy with the Amalgamated Transit Union.
A spokesperson with Veolia Transportation, Valerie Michael, said Veolia is waiting on a vote in City Council about an industry standard contract update over things like buses arriving on time. She said that the vote in city council will have to pass in order for the contract with the union to work. For now she said Veolia is focusing on restoring service.
On Monday morning, the first full day of the strike, the company was at about 33 percent.
Veolia was flying in drivers from other cities and unions, putting their supervisors behind the wheel and even some local union members were crossing picket lines.
But the majority of drivers were not, which was making things very tough for people needing to get to work.
Union leaders were apologetic to a point.
"Right now, I have to apologize on behalf of every member of every operator of Local 1433, I apologize for them," said Mike Hennessey of ATU Local 1433. "But I also got to say, the timing was right. We went on strike on Saturday night to eliminate a major impact to our ridership."
Hennessey was referring to the fact that many students are on spring break this week, and the demand for bus service is lower at this time of year.
The union maintains Veolia is taking away benefits they already have.
In one instance, it appears that's true. Right now, drivers can accrue 144 sick days that they can cash out when they retire.
The new contract would cut that to 60 days.
"We think the offer is a generous offer," said Valerie Michael, of Veolia Transportation. "We know that our drivers are the highest paid in this Valley, but regardless of that, we've offered them an increase that is almost 10 percent over the course of the contract."
That 10 percent figure is somewhat misleading because the last two years of the Veolia contract offer are in 2015 and 2016.
That's after the contract with Phoenix ends.
There's no way to guarantee Veolia will still be running the buses or if a new company would honor the terms of this contract.
A total of about 90,000 bus riders are in some form being impacted by the bus strike.
And although there is limited service, many of them were walking or getting to an alternate bus route that remained in service in order to catch their bus.
That was the case with Tony Nino on Monday morning, who waited more than hour at Central and McDowell to get to work at 40th Street and Broadway. Nino said he tried friends and co-workers, but none kept the same schedule as he did, so he had to take a bus on an alternate route.
Most people who spoke with CBS 5 News were informed about the strike and their options.
Copyright 2012 CBS 5(Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.