Orange County bus service was operating on a mostly normal schedule Monday, thanks to an 11th-hour agreement between the Orange County Transportation Authority and the union representing 150 maintenance employees to resume contract talks.

Orange County had been bracing for a bus strike as OCTA maintenance employees broke off contract talks. The strike was scheduled to begin just after midnight Monday morning.

But late Sunday night, the sides agreed to go back to the negotiating table, averting a walkout.

OCTA officials said despite the strike being averted, some customers could experience delays on some lines as talk continue.

The OCTA and the union were contacted by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office Sunday requesting parties continue negotiating.

“OC Bus is a critical public service for tens of thousands of Orange County residents and stopping service would unnecessarily harm those who rely upon us including students, seniors and workers who have no other means to travel,” OCTA Chairman Mark A. Murphy, also the mayor of Orange, said in a statement. “For all of our riders, I’m very happy that service will continue.”

A best and final offer was presented to leaders of Teamsters Local 952 on Sept. 22, but it was rejected.

“We remain committed to doing what it takes to avoid a labor action that would disrupt transportation services for thousands of daily Orange County riders,” said Eric Jimenez, Local 952 Secretary-Treasurer. “However, we stand united with our members in the fight for a fair and equitable agreement.”

The union’s agreement expired Sept. 30. It covers 150 mechanics, machinists and service workers with OCTA. The negotiations started on May 25 and there have been 25 bargaining sessions through the summer. Union leaders accused OCTA of not bargaining in good faith.

“We believe that setting a budget before bargaining even begins and failing to address the issues that occur in the course of bargaining is an unfair labor practice,” Jimenez said. “An entity is not bargaining in good faith if it makes up its mind about what it will offer before bargaining even begins.”

The dispute is over salaries and benefits.

“OCTA must address wages, health care costs, the lack of pension increases for well over a decade, and some key non-economic issues,” Jimenez said. “We are ready to consider any revised proposals OCTA may have in mind, and we have provided them with available dates this week so we can sit back down at the negotiating table and come to an agreement to avoid a strike.”

Murphy said, “There’s no reason we can’t continue negotiating to reach a resolution without putting the burden on bus passengers.”

But OCTA officials warned commuters to make alternate plans just in case.

OCTA managed to stave off a strike by the same union in February when it reached a three-year agreement with bus drivers.

“We believe the contract offer we’ve made to maintenance employees is in line with what was offered to our coach operators and other union workers,” Murphy said. “It’s a generous offer that is very competitive in the marketplace.”

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