The decision to strike is never easy. The picket line brings stress not just to the strikers, but to their families, their communities and everyone who depends on their labor.
For hundreds of Local 542 members who provide paratransit services for MTS Access in San Diego, walking off the job came with the added difficulty of leaving thousands of passengers who rely on their service. But it was a necessary inconvenience to keep the paratransit system running properly, according to Local 542 member Lisette Iribe, a reservationist at MTS who took to the strike line.
“It was a tough choice, and the thought of not being there for our passengers made it all the harder,” she said. “But we just had to remind ourselves that it was for them too – better working conditions helps create a better bus system … We deserved better and we needed more than what the company was offering – better wages and health benefits, and more time off.”
After rejecting the company's last and final offer on May 24, Iribe and more than 300 of her fellow paratransit workers (drivers, fuel/washers, mechanics, and reservationists) voted to strike. By 3 a.m. the next morning, Local 542 members began forming picket lines.
The message to management was clear, said Local 542 Secretary-Treasurer Jaime Vasquez. “The workers provide an essential transit service to the city of San Diego and they were willing to fight for the wages and benefits all hardworking bus workers deserve,” he said.
The unit stayed strong, said Iribe, who took it upon herself to stay positive and rally her co-workers. The workers stayed upbeat by turning up the beat with the occasional dance moves on the picket line. In a show of online solidarity, she and her co-workers became a YouTube hit with Teamsters across the country.
“I knew it was time to take a stand, and I knew the Teamsters would stand by us like always,” she said. “But I also knew that it was going to be up to us to stay positive and keep everyone’s spirits up.”
Last Thursday, after 15 hours of intense negotiations, the company made one more offer. This time, it was met with overwhelming approval – and an overwhelming ratification vote – from the paratransit workers.
The new agreement contains significant language, including health insurance co-pays and wage increase improvements.
Local 542 are excited and thrilled to be part of an organization that stands side by side with its members, said Iribe, noting that their union pride has never been stronger.
“There’s a bond that didn’t exist before and a renewed respect for one another,” she said. “People who were on the fence about the union are coming up to me asking how they can get involved and when the next meeting is going to be. We are all proud – proud to work in paratransit and proud to be Teamsters.”