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Transit workers are riding again in Visalia, Sequoia National Park after six-week strike

A group of strikers hold signs saying "Support Local," "More Holiday!" and "More Sick Days!" outside of the Visalia Transit Center.
Teamsters Local 517
Transit workers in Visalia and Sequoia National Week have ended a 6-week labor strike after coming to an agreement with private contractor Transdev.

VISALIA, Calif. — Transit workers in Visalia and Sequoia National Park are back on the job after a 42-day labor strike ended over the weekend.

On Saturday, riders eagerly boarded buses at the Visalia Transit Center amid sweltering heat. Among them was Sequoia High School student Florentino Rodriguez.

"When I heard they were going to start it [the buses] last night, I told my dad and he got really happy, too," he said.

The Visalia teen said that while he sympathized with transit workers, the disruption was a struggle for many residents who rely on the bus to get around.

"A lot of people use the transit for everything, like doctors appointments and getting groceries," he said. "It really sucks when the buses aren’t running. It’s really hot and just no fun in general."

Drivers win new benefits

The labor strike began in early July with employees citing a number of issues with the private contractor Transdev, which handles bus operations for the city of Visalia and Sequoia National Park.

The workers’ union, Teamster Local 517, says drivers won key concessions in a new, one-year agreement. Those include improved wages, more sick days and formal paid time off.

"The transportation services that these workers provide are essential to keeping the City of Visalia and Sequoia National Park moving efficiently. We are thrilled that they now have a strong contract to show for it,” stated Local 517 Secretary-Treasurer Greg Landers.

This is the year’s third worker strike in California against Transdev. Company representatives could not be reached for comment.

What's next?

Drivers said they were excited to get back behind the wheel after the six-week strike. Kenny Ortega, a bus operator, shared he looked forward to seeing regular riders again.

Visalia Mayor Brian Poochigian says the city's contract with Transdev is up in a year. The company purchased the city's previous bus operator midway through its contract, he added.

"We [the council] did not select the cheapest bus operator during the last bidding process," Poochigian told KVPR. "We want to provide the best bus service possible for all Visalians."

He said the council has met with drivers and the union to explore options and look at the possibility of modifying future contracts to provide better conditions for employees.

"I'm glad the union won the strike and got some of the items that they wanted," Poochigian said. "I only wish it had happened sooner."

Joshua Yeager is a Report For America corps reporter covering Kern County for KVPR.