A dispute between one of Foothill Transit's main contractors and the drivers and mechanics working for it has raised the possibility of the carrier's first strike in its six-year history.
At issue is a three-year contract offered this month by Upland-based Laidlaw Transit Services to some of its workers. The proposal was overwhelmingly rejected by the drivers, who navigate Foothill buses on 12 of its 21 local and express lines.
"They don't want to give us anything--no wage increases and no benefits," said driver and shop steward Eric Tate. "We feel like a welfare bus company."
Laidlaw General Manager Jesse Roach, citing ongoing negotiations, would not discuss the talks other than to say he is optimistic a strike will be averted. Unlike most public carriers, Foothill--which serves residents from Pasadena to Pomona--is governed by local officials but run by a private company that hires outside contractors.
The agency, which keeps overhead low, spends about $51 an hour to keep its coaches on the road, roughly $37 an hour cheaper than the county's sprawling Metropolitan Transportation Authority, according to recent studies.
During negotiations, the drivers asked for an immediate $1 per hour wage hike, full medical coverage for themselves and their families, better working conditions and the chance to make $12 to $13 an hour in three years.
As it stands, most of Laidlaw's 150 drivers make $8.50 an hour and are entitled to limited medical coverage that does not extend to their families, Tate said. A handful earn $11.10 an hour.
Veteran MTA drivers can earn up to $18 an hour, plus benefits.
Contending it was losing $300,000 annually under its Foothill contract, Laidlaw asked drivers to accept a one-year salary freeze and no new benefits, said Lou Ippolito, a business agent at Teamsters Local 848.
Laidlaw and union leaders have scheduled a Feb. 2 meeting with a federal mediator.
Union officials representing 24 Laidlaw mechanics did not return several phone calls. Laidlaw is receiving roughly $8 million under a pair of contracts with Foothill that expire in December, 1997, Roach said.
Foothill Executive Director Roger Chapin said that the problems are strictly between Laidlaw and its employees and that he expects the company to live up to its pact. Last year, Foothill's blue and white coaches carried 11 million passengers.