Phoenix Bus Drivers to Protest and Picket at City Council Chambers; Still No Contract Between Workers, Transit Company

When Phoenix City Council consider on Wednesday slashing the fines for Veolia Transportation, the French company that operates city buses, the company's bus drivers will be outside protesting and picketing against it.

Union reps believe Phoenix bending over backwards to help a "foreign company," all the while that transit company is unwilling to work with union reps to hammer out a fair deal for bus drivers.

The fines, or liquidated damages, are included in the contract that Veolia signed with Phoenix, and transit officials emphasized the fines would be "strictly enforced." The fines are assessed, for instance, when buses aren't properly maintained, are late to a stop or simply don't show up.

For example, based on fines assessed during July, August and September -- the first three months of fiscal year 2011-2012 -- Veolia owes Phoenix $379, 288 for not living up to the performance measures. If Veolia gets its way and city officials agree to drop the fines, the company would only end up paying Phoenix about $100,000.

And that's only three months.

The Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents bus drivers, is calling for the public to join them at 2 p.m. in front of the council chamber, southeast corner of Third Avenue and Washington, for an hour-long protest.

At 3 p.m., members plan to enter the chambers and speak to the council about their concerns. Check out the ATU flier.

The ATU and Veolia have been at odds during negotiations since the contract between bus drivers and the transit company expired..

"The city and Veolia have had an interesting relationship over the years," the ATU writes in a flier posted at bus yards. "Now, the City of Phoenix is headed by a new mayor, one who we can assume has no interest in this long twisted relationship."

ATU officials are referring to Veolia hiring former Mayor Phil Gordon's girlfriend while the company was competing for a $365 million contract to operate city buses, and Gordon pulling for Veolia to snag an extra $30 million from Phoenix behind closed doors. Click here to read more.

"We will no longer tolerate the "special relationship" that Veolia has had with the city for all these years," the flier notes.

City records obtained by New Times show that right from the start, Veolia execs objected to the fines.

The city committee evaluating bidders for the city's bus contract said it "cannot consider Veolia Transportation's proposal further unless Veolia withdraws its exception to the liquidated damage provisions..."

Veolia withdrew its objections in order to pursue the $365 million city-bus contract. But now that it has a firm hold on the contract, it's bringing up the issues of fines again.

A city representative cautioned Phoenix officials against a moratorium on fines "for Veolia as their own delay has caused the need to seek relief" from the liquidated damages.

But, Phoenix officials went ahead and shut down fines for four months -- giving Veolia a pass on about $2 million worth of fines that otherwise would have been paid to cash-strapped city. Read about the waived fines.

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