STOCKTON – BART employees apparently aren’t the only transit workers upset with the decisions of management.
More than one-third of all drivers who handle the Stockton Metro routes for the San Joaquin Regional Transit District failed to show up for work on Tuesday. It was reportedly because they’re disgruntled with the planned reworking of route schedules that will cut the amount of overtime they’re able to earn.
And the move, which came on the first day of school for Stockton Unified, left administrators wondering how long it would continue.
While the service disruption isn’t expected to affect routes to Lathrop, Manteca or Ripon – those are handled by a contracted company rather than SJRTD staff drivers – it could end up affecting those that are traveling into Stockton and switching buses to access local routes that cover the bulk of the city.
The issue stems from the annual practice of resetting work assignments when Stockton Unified begins its school year in order to best serve the students that rely on public transportation.
But after the Board of Directors approved the elimination of unproductive service, the transportation district found itself searching for ways to retain drivers in the face of route reductions. The ultimate decision was to keep all full-time employees with the hope that Federal transportation dollars that are currently on hold because of an objection by unions – including RTD’s – would be freed up.
Schedules, by law and by contract, may chart a driver’s daily responsibilities over a 15-hour “spread” even though every attempt is made to trim that down to a 12-hour period.
Tuesday’s action, according to RTD Marketing and Communications Manager Paul Rapp, was unexpected. District officials in their last meeting with union brass were led to believe that there would be no adverse actions.
“Regrettably, some operators deliberately decided not to come to work today, the first day of school, knowing their absence could compromise thousands of students who rely on RTD to get to school each day,” the agency said in a press release. “RTD officials are disappointed that their efforts to retain all employees has been answered by today’s unusually absenteeism, which they believe is a union-organized activity.”
Because the mass action on Tuesday seemed to come out of nowhere, Rapp said that RTD officials weren’t completely sure whether it was simply a one-day staged event to try and make a point or a signal for a longer action that could interrupt service on a larger scale.
The press release sent out Tuesday said that schedulers always make sure that stand-by drivers are ready in case of high levels of absenteeism occur, and that they can cover upwards of 20 percent of planned routes before service is affected. That still left more than 10 percent of the buses grounded on Tuesday.
Those routes may be sidelined as long as the dispute continues.
“RTD remains committed to providing as much service as possible and apologizes to its customers for the inconvenience that this organized action might cause,” the release stated. “In order to accommodate the many customers traveling to and from school and work, while RTD has had to suspend service on some Stockton Metro routes, it has been able to double frequency on some Metro Hopper routes.”
MV Transportation operates all of the RTD’s Metro and County Hopper Routes as well as the commuter services that provide transportation to the Bay Area. County routes that serve residents in Manteca, Lathrop and Ripon are also provided under that contract, and aren’t expected to be directly affected by the labor dispute.