Jul 31, 2013 10:45 PM by Associated Press
PHOENIX - Hundreds of bus drivers overwhelming rejected a proposed labor contract Wednesday, setting the stage for a midnight strike that would shut down service in the Phoenix-area.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433 said about 95 percent of the almost 400 drivers it represents voted to reject the proposed agreement with First Transit Inc.
A strike would stop bus service on 40 routes in Tempe, Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert, plus some routes in Scottsdale and Ahwatukee Foothills, and express service from those communities to downtown Phoenix and Scottsdale.
The routes serve an estimated 57,000 bus riders daily.
There was no immediate reaction from officials with First Transit, which operates buses for the Valley Metro Regional Public Transportation Authority.
Valley Metro warned passengers who use the affected routes to prepare to use alternative travel options Thursday.
Valley Metro has 101 Phoenix-area bus routes, and service within Phoenix wasn't expected to be affected by a strike
Light rail service also isn't affected, and Valley Metro said train service could be increased depending on demand.
Meanwhile, union officials said hundreds of workers planned to picket the First Transit operations centers in Tempe and Mesa.
First Transit and the bus drivers' union had been in labor negotiations since January to define their temporary working agreement over wages, benefits and work rules.
Union officials said drivers were asked to accept significant hikes in health care contributions and Valley Metro RPTA wanted greater rights to fire union members.
A strike in March 2012 crippled bus service in metropolitan Phoenix for six days before it was settled.
That labor dispute involved more than 600 Phoenix drivers and another 310 in Tempe who work for Veolia Transportation Services.
It affected 50 routes on the combined Valley Metro regional bus service.