Article below was published by “The Signal” (Santa Clarita Valley’s local newspaper), on October 24, 2023. Written by Perry Smith:
Dozens of Santa Clarita Transit workers showed up Tuesday to Council Chambers at Santa Clarita City Hall to urge the city to get involved in negotiations as a union strike that’s led to reduced transportation services citywide enters its third week.
Teamsters Local 572, the union that represents the drivers for Santa Clarita’s contracted public transportation company, MV Transportation, notified the city it might strike in September. It officially walked off the job Oct. 9.
The negotiations between Texas-based MV Transportation have been ongoing and in “good faith” since October 2022, according to a statement from MV Transportation.
Several drivers challenged that claim during public comment at Tuesday’s meeting.
A couple of the City Council members, including Bill Miranda and Laurene Weste, offered thanks to the members of the city’s transit staff for appearing. Miranda said the city has always seen these types of scenarios as two-sided conflicts — but maybe there are three sides, he said, to cheers from the crowd.
He quickly added that he was more concerned about those losing services than he was trying to win over union supporters.
After a rider with cerebral palsy who uses L.A. County’s Access Services program in the Santa Clarita region talked about how the strike has impacted services and made things very difficult on the social workers who take care of her and her friend with special needs, the sea of blue shirts representing MV Transportation that crowded Council Chambers stood up and applauded.
In statements given prior to Tuesday’s Santa Clarita City Council meeting, city staff have said they have no interest in getting involved in the actual negotiations, as the city is in the first year of a two-year option on its contract with MV Transportation for services, which expires in July 2024.
However, in addressing the first 10 speakers during the first round of public comment at Tuesday’s meeting, City Manager Ken Striplin said the city understands all the “issues revolving around the negotiations between the workers and MV Transportation” and the challenges that workers have faced.
While the item wasn’t agendized for a City Council discussion, and the city is not engaged in the negotiations, Striplin indicated the city had been speaking with its transportation company.
“We have been in constant communication within the transportation trying to encourage a resolution to the issue,” Striplin said. “While that’s the extent to which I can comment on those conversations, I do want you to know that we are continuing to push MV to try to work on a coming up with a resolution … amicable for both sides of the issue.”
Councilwoman Marsha McLean also shared sympathy for the striking drivers.
“It’s kind of hard after hearing all of that,” she said. “I feel for all of you, I truly do and I hope there can be a resolution sooner rather than later. I truly do.”
The city picked up its first option on its contract in July, about three months prior to the start of the current negotiations.
Lourdes Garcia, president of the union, implored the city to become involved in the situation, saying while city has said it’s not involved in the past, it is involved.
Garcia said the city should step up and pay more, as Santa Clarita is benefiting from a contract it negotiated in 2019.
City officials noted the contract’s renewal options include a 3% automatic increase to account for cost hikes. Garcia said that the pandemic has driven up costs for everyone at a rate much higher than what its contract has called for, which is why the company, according to the striking workers, has said it doesn’t have enough money for wage hikes.
MV has not commented publicly on the situation since September and has rebuffed multiple requests for comment.
Currently, the city is not paying for its contract with MV Transportation during the strike, according to city officials. Part of Tuesday’s meeting was a consent calendar item acknowledging the city made a disaster declaration, which Striplin signed Oct. 9, with respect to the strike and the city being notified its transit services were going on strike. (Consent calendar items are approved as a group without discussion on the individual items from the council.)
Shortly after Striplin issued the declaration, the city entered into an emergency contract with Transit Systems, a San Fernando Valley-based charter bus company. The initial first day of the contract, Oct. 11, cost the city approximately $18,000, based on contracts made available by the city.
Since then, the city has added services to its temporary contract.
The city offers updated route information on its website: santaclaritatransit.com/2023-mv-bus-driver-strike-schedule.