Paratransit union drivers mulling strike in Clallam County

The president of the union that represents Paratransit Services bus drivers in Clallam County expects its members to consider a strike at their Jan. 4 meeting.

A strike would disrupt bus service to the private, nonprofit company’s customers: the elderly and disabled.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587 President Paul Bachtel said such an action may be needed to keep contract negotiations with Paratransit from dragging out.

He said the company, which operates under a contract with Clallam Transit, has not been responsive to the union’s proposal for the three-year contract that is supposed to begin Jan. 1.

“They have refused to bargain to the point of strike,” Bachtel said.

Paratransit Service Operations and Human Resources Director Randy Grove said that is not the case.

Grove said the company has been negotiating with the union.

“We have engaged in [conversations] to discuss and mix some offers and we’re trying to find some middle ground,” he said.

Paratransit Services, based in Bremerton, provides specialized transportation services to people who have difficulty using regular buses because of physical impairment or age.

Only in Clallam

Local 587 represents bus drivers in Clallam, Jefferson and King counties. The strike would take place only in Clallam County,Bachtel said.

Bachtel said he does not expect negotiations to be resolved by the time the contract expires.

He said that Paratransit officials have met only twice with the union representatives since talks began in November.

Grove said scheduling conflicts have prevented more meetings from occurring.

He said Paratransit has proposed a 30- to 60-day contract extension and two back-to-back meeting dates in January.

Grove said the company has “several options” to maintain bus service during a strike but declined further comment on how that could be done.

The Seattle-based union represents 20 drivers and eight dispatchers and customer service representatives in Clallam County.

Bachtel said the union is “simply asking” to continue pay raises settled in previous contracts, but Grove said the union is asking for more than that and its proposal would increase transportation costs by $1.7 million during the duration of the contract.

Bachtel said that if members vote to strike, it would be the union’s first in about 30 years. The last one occurred during a contract dispute with King County Metro, he said.

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Reporter Tom Callis can be reached at 360-417-3532 or at tom.callis@peninsuladailynews.com.

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