GET board to meet behind closed doors Saturday [The Bakersfield Californian :: ]
(Bakersfield Californian, The (CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 15--There's no immediate end in sight for the five-week bus strike, but Golden Empire Transit's board of directors plans a 3 p.m. executive board meeting Saturday with GET management staff and CEO Karen King to discuss contract proposals.
GET spokeswoman Gina Hayden said no big announcement is expected after the executive session, which is closed to members of the public and the media.
"I would be surprised if we make an announcement from that meeting, because the process is that proposals go to the employees first and they vote on the proposal. If they vote to accept it, it goes to the GET board and the GET board approves it or doesn't," Hayden said.
The board will receive public comment immediately before its closed session.
Union negotiators returned to the bargaining table at 1 p.m. Friday in hopes of resolving key issues with a proposed contract's duration and its start date, a union official said.
Their progress remained unclear by late afternoon.
It's the length of GET's proposed one-year contract with 257 drivers, mechanics and servicers, and its July 1 retroactive start date, that prompted union members to vote down a proposed 3 percent wage increase Thursday -- not the raise itself, according to Chester Suniga, principal officer at Teamsters Local 517.
Suniga dismissed a rumor that union members would approve the existing contract offer and return to work if GET's board of directors fired CEO King.
"There's no truth to that as far as going back to work. Everybody's willing to go back to work. A few of the drivers have said, 'Hey, we'll go back to work for nothing if the City Council removes Karen King.' I can't say it is a majority. That's just something that is out there," Suniga said, adding, "That shouldn't weigh on our decision on this contract."
The proposed contract's one-year term would mean bargaining might have to resume in seven to eight months, Suniga said -- a prospect union officials do not relish.
Its July 1 start date would mean union members would lose three months of their wage increase because the previous contract expired March 31.
Suniga said this loss would essentially negate any positive impact the 3 percent increase would otherwise have.
Hayden said the agency's operating funds, much of which come from the state, have been hard-hit by a drop in sales tax revenue, which has been down since the recession.
"For us to agree to a multi-year contract of 3 percent when we're not sure what our funding is going to be, it is just not something we can do," Hayden said.
The second GET strike in 34 years attracted the notice of the Bakersfield City Council, which asked the two members it appoints to the agency's board of directors for a report Wednesday.
Dissatisfied by what it heard, the City Council considered two motions to remove its board members, Norris Ledbetter and Howard Silver -- but approved neither.
Despite the vote, Ward 2 Councilman Terry Maxwell and Ward 5 Councilman Harold Hanson said Friday they're still unhappy with GET.
"My concern is (board members) are in lockstep with the management team," said Maxwell, who voted for both motions. "I think you've got to send a clear message they need to be replaced."
Hanson, who voted against both motions, said much the same.
"I think the board needs to make sure Karen and all her lieutenants are really doing the right thing," Hanson said. "I think there's a cancer in that organization and somebody better come along and cut it out before they have some terrible, terrible issues."
Silver, who has been on the board 30 years, said he expects changes will be made -- but union employees need to do a better job of engaging management, too.
"It's one thing to be emotional and do all this complaining and it's another thing to go to the source. You have to communicate," Silver said. "I have to tell you, as far as Karen running the organization and the way the organization is set up to operate, I have never seen it more functional than it is right now."
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