UPDATED: Golden Gate Transit strike averted

UPDATE: A tentative agreement between the unions and Golden Gate Bridge District was reached Thursday afternoon. Buses will now run on Friday.

No buses operated by Golden Gate Transit will be in service this Friday, Oct. 17 due to a labor union strike if mitigation cannot be reached, according to Golden Gate Bridge District spokeswoman Priya Clemens.

The bus routes to Redwood, routes 113 and 119, will still be in service, as they are operated by a different contractor. However, the routes to Hall, Neil Cummins, White Hill, Drake, Brookside Elementary, and Hidden Valley Elementary will all be affected if a strike occurs.

Passengers board a bus at the San Rafael Transit Center on Oct. 15. If agreement is not reached, bus drivers will strike on Friday, Oct. 17, and no Golden Gate Transit buses will be in service.

Passengers board a bus at the San Rafael Transit Center on Oct. 15. If agreement is not reached, bus drivers will strike on Friday, Oct. 17, and no Golden Gate Transit buses will be in service.

Tim Jenkins is a Labor Representative for the Teamsters 856 Union, which is part of the Golden Gate Labor Coalition and is one of the unions striking. According to Jenkins, the strike is caused by a new health care plan that the Golden Gate Bridge District wants to implement for its workers.

The health care plan is called a “bronze” plan, as, according to Jenkins, it is the lowest level of coverage available under the Affordable Care Act. Jenkins said that the plan would have employees pay 40% of their health care costs, up to  a maximum of $12,000 per year.

“We think that puts too many families one accident or one leukemia diagnosis away from bankruptcy,” Jenkins said.

However, Jenkins said that he is hopeful that the unions and the Golden Gate Bridge District will be able to reach a compromise at a bargaining session that will take place Thursday afternoon.

“We are hopeful that we’ll be able to reach resolution on Thursday and head off the strike,” Jenkins said. “In order for us to do that, we told the district that employees that currently are covered under good health insurance will have to be able to keep that quality health insurance that they currently have.”

Golden Gate Bridge District spokeswoman Priya Clemens said they hope to avoid a strike at all costs, and are willing to go into mediation.

“We’re continuing to work as hard as we can to avoid a strike altogether,” Clemens said. “We think the strike would be a major inconvenience to our customers.”

According to Clemens, the unions and the Golden Gate Bridge District have been meeting weekly for several months to try and mitigate the union’s concerns. However, she said that there has not been much progress made in these discussions.

“The lack of forward movement has made us feel like it would be very beneficial to bring in an outside mediator,” Clemens said.

Clemens said that the health care plan under question will not be required, and that the out-of-pocket money for the bronze plan will be covered by the Golden Gate Bridge District. She said that the District will give employees a Health Reimbursement Account, which is similar to a debit card, that will cover $12,000 for the first year, and $9,000 for the second. The unused funds will roll over to the next year.

Additionally, Clemens said that the plan is optional, and that the District offers three other health care plans with lower out-of-pocket maximums.

“That plan is completely optional, during the negotiations as a concession the district said we will make it an option for people to take only if they want it,” Clemens said. “So we feel like we’ve made the concessions to the union on that plan. ”

However, Jenkins said that the Bridge District will only cover the out-of-pocket cost for the first year.

“It is true that they have offered to cover the deductible, but only the first year, so the second and third years it’s dramatically reduced, and then in a few years HRAs (Health Reimbursement Accounts) will be taxed at the excise tax rate,” he said.

Clemens believes that negotiations can be reached over the district’s covering the out-of-pocket costs after the second year.

“They have concerns that the district is going to take away extra money at some point, but all of that can be negotiated out,” Clemens said.

Clemens advised commuters to take alternative transportation.

“We understand it’s going to be a tough day, and we currently wish that the union representatives will choose another path,” she said.

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