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Westmoreland transit drivers could walk off the job today

Rich Cholodofsky
| Friday, April 27, 2012, 4:33 a.m.

Drivers and mechanics for the Westmoreland County Transit Authority could walk off the job this morning over a pay dispute that erupted yesterday in the aftermath of a decision to fire the company that operated the commuter bus service for the past four years.

Tom Conley, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1738, said no final decision had been reached to call a strike, but union members who attended an emergency meeting of the authority board last night said a work stoppage was possible.

"No comment," Conley said when asked last night about a possible strike.

Authority Executive Larry Morris declined to comment whether any contingency plans were in place for a potential strike of union drivers.

The authority's first routes are scheduled to leave at 5:20 a.m. from Latrobe and Mt. Pleasant. The first buses leaving from Greensburg to Pittsburgh are scheduled to depart at 5:25 a.m.

The authority operates 17 daily routes, including commuter buses to Pittsburgh.

Talk of a potential strike surfaced yesterday as the transit authority board formalized action the agency's management took duing the weekend to terminate the business relationship with Edenfield Transit, which had operated and maintained the authority's buses.

The authority in 2006 gave Edenfield a 5-year, $10.6 million contract to operate buses.

That relationship grew rocky over the past year as a company subsidiary sustained numerous tax liens and this fall filed for bankruptcy.

"This has nothing to do with the bankruptcy," Morris said yesterday of the sudden decision to fire Edenfield.

The trigger for that action was pulled Nov. 20 when authority officials were served court documents that required the agency to send payment for Edenfield's services to the Internal Revenue Service as a means to satisfy a lien filed in October against the bus company.

Morris said Edenfield breached its contract with the authority when it did not notify the agency about the latest lien.

Board members met for about 90 minutes behind closed doors last night, then briefly in open session to officially fire Edenfield Transit. Lodestar Bus Lines Inc. of New Florence then was hired to take over the terms of Edenfield's contract on a temporary basis.

Lodestar currently operates the authority's rural bus routes.

Authority board President Frank Tosto Jr. said Lodestar will serve in an interim basis until a permanent contractor is hired to operate the buses.

"We have not yet established how long that will be," Tosto said.

Union members yesterday said a potential work stoppage is being considered over concerns they will not receive back pay from Edenfield and future salaries from Lodestar.

Drivers and mechanics are to be paid by Edenfield for work to Saturday, Morris said.

"It's Edenfield's obligation to pay their employees. We can't pay anything to Edenfield," Morris said.

Under terms of the deal negotiated yesterday, unionized drivers and mechanics are expected be be transferred from Edenfield and join Lodestar's payroll effective Nov. 23, according to Morris.

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