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Lake County transit workers strike over contract dispute

Lake County Transit riders are facing delays and limited service after workers walked out late Sunday in a contract dispute.

The 35-member unit of Teamsters Local 665 voted over the weekend to reject the offer of a 2.2 percent raise from Paratransit Services, the nonprofit that operates the transit agency under contract with the county. The union has been pushing for a raise of closer to 3 percent, plus the restoration of seniority-based step increases suspended three years ago because of poor economic conditions.

Agency spokesman Randy Grove said at least six drivers have crossed the picket line and continue to work. The transit line is giving first priority to customers who rely on public transportation to get to medical treatments, but it is running regular transit, tying in with mass transit systems in Napa and Mendocino counties, on a limited basis as well.

The system sees about 400,000 passenger trips per year. Paratransit Services, based in Bremerton, Wash., has operated the system since 2007.

It appeared Monday that neither side was in a mood for compromise.

Teamsters local Secretary Mark Gleason, walking the picketline in Lower Lake, accused the company of being “stuck in the mud” on the pay issue for three years. He said the union was considering asking Caltrans and the state legislature to look into Paratransit Services’ finances to challenge the company’s insistence that it cannot afford a more generous raise.

“Right now, we just don’t believe them,” he said.

Grove, meanwhile, said the union was being unreasonable in its demands and accused the workers of failing to acknowledged the long-term cost of restoring the step raises, which he said could add half a million dollars to the cost of the system over the next three years.

He expressed surprise at the union’s vote Sunday on the company’s latest offer, saying the two sides had been scheduled to meet in September to review new information on the benefits package based on emerging details of the implementation Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often known as Obamacare.

The union and the agency have no other scheduled meetings, he said.

This is the second strike in a month. Workers walked off the job for two days in early July to protest the slow progress of the contract negotiations. Union leaders say the strike that began Sunday has no definite end date.

The workers’ latest contract expired in December, but they had agreed to work under an indefinite extension. Both sides say they had hoped to negotiate a new contract through 2016.

You can reach Staff Writer Sean Scully at 521-5313 or sean.scully@pressdemocrat.com.

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