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End of strike spells relief

County bus service has been restored in Laguna Beach after the Orange County Transportation Authority and the Teamsters Union jump-started previously stalled labor negotiations. The drivers agreed to return to work Monday, and by Wednesday service was at or near full capacity.

The strike left Laguna Beach with no outside bus service. The city’s transit system and summer shuttles were not affected by the walkout.

While many hoteliers and restaurant operators said they had few problems from the strike, some in Laguna let out a sigh of relief at seeing the buses back in operation after more than a week of down time.

Businesses near the Broadway bus depot were hit especially hard by the strike, which lasted from July 7 through Monday.

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Tom Williams of My Laguna Office, less than a block away from the terminal, said his business dropped off drastically with the buses parked.

“Some of us do a lot of business from the bus terminal,” Williams said.

He said My Laguna Office is frequented by bus riders who don’t live in Laguna Beach but work in the city. They purchase snacks and drinks, buy Internet access from the shop’s Internet café and pick up office supplies.

The store also sells bus passes, but without bus routes flowing, Williams said his stream of customers ran drier.

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“Those workers are also buyers and spenders in Laguna,” Williams said.

Shirley’s Bagels across from Williams’ shop was also negatively affected by the strike.

Janet Hernandez said the shop thrives on people coming in for breakfast off the buses before work. She said some of her employees had a hard time getting to work on time without the bus.

Bus riders were elated to get their rides back. Urien Pena, who lives in Laguna Hills but works at South Coast Medical Center in South Laguna, said having transportation back was a weight off his shoulders.

“I’m glad to see the buses are back,” Pena said.

The strike was called by the Teamsters after an impasse in union negotiations about what kind of raises the coach operators should receive.

Joel Zlotnik, spokesman for OCTA, said the company was disappointed to put the more than 200,000 Orange County residents that use the bus every day in a difficult position and will try to return service back to normal capacity as soon as possible.

“We know how tough it was on our customers, and we were happy to put it behind us,” Zlotnik said.

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The original deal OCTA offered the coach operators gave raises over the next three years.

The deal that was struck gives senior coach operators with more than five years of experience a 4.25% increase the first year of the contract and junior operators a 3.5% raise. The second year of the contract will give a 3% increase across the board, and the third year will give a 4% increase to all drivers.

“We’re real pleased we were able to give, we think, a very good deal,” Zlotnik said.


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