Documented by Jackie Schuster

What happened: After three weeks without city bus service, more than a dozen Visalia Transit workers and residents who rely on public transportation attended Monday’s Visalia City Council meeting to voice their concerns and ask for assistance once again.

Visalia Transit workers represented by Teamsters Local 517 went on strike July 8 after they could not reach an agreement with Transdev North America, the transit service operator on behalf of Visalia Transit.

The workers were initially asking for better wages and hours, but according to a statement released Monday by the Teamsters Union, they are now asking for additional sick days as they only get three per year.

Concerns about the lack of sick days were echoed by many of those in attendance who said they risked their health and well-being to come to work throughout the pandemic, but are now penalized when they are sick and need to take time off. Several said that mandatory overtime was also an issue because they are unable to plan necessary appointments on their scheduled days off.

Teamsters Representative Greg Landers was also in attendance and said union representatives would meet again with Transdev Monday afternoon, but as of Wednesday negotiations remained ongoing.

Landers and several others asked for the council to help get Transdev back to the negotiation table.

Others questioned why the city of Visalia doesn’t hire the workers, the way the city of Fresno operates the Fresno Area Express (FAX) and the city of Clovis operates its Clovis Transit system.

Mayor Brian Poochigian read a statement on behalf of the council members saying that they are disappointed in the lack of services provided by the transportation system and that transit workers have not been paid for a month.

He said the city is preparing to request a new contract, but the city cannot cut its contract with Transdev immediately without risking the loss of transit services for months.

Mickey Freitas, Visalia Transit worker and negotiating committee member for the union, said that although she keeps hearing this isn’t the city’s fight because it’s between Transdev and the workers, she feels this is the city’s fight because they represent the community. She said although their paychecks might not be signed by the city, their shirts say city of Visalia on them, so she doesn’t understand why they are contracted out and not city employees with city benefits.

For bus riders such as Erin Elliott, an agreement can’t come soon enough. She said the last month has been hard and that if Visalia is going to be a good place for people to raise families, then it needs good jobs and a public transit system.

“Bus drivers shouldn’t have to drive when they feel sick or have been up all night taking care of sick children,” she said. “Transdev profits from underpaying drivers.”

Daniel O’Connell, director of the Central Valley Partnership, said that the city choosing to enter a contract with Transdev has created this problem and that community pressure on the council will only intensify until a solution is found.

Annexations will bring 300 new homes into city limits: The council approved the initial studies and initiations needed to annex two areas and more than 300 new housing units into the city of Visalia.

The two annexations under consideration are a 40-acre parcel located on the east side of Road 88, south of West Goshen Avenue, for a D.R. Horton development, and a 69-acre parcel at the northwest corner of South Roeben Street and West Whitendale Avenue for a Woodside Homes development.

The D.R. Horton development will consist of 200 homes located where orchards are now.

The Woodside Homes development is planned to include 137 lots around a centralized park. The homes will range in size from 1,100 square feet to 2,500 square feet.

Up next: The Visalia City Council will meet again on Aug. 21.

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The Fresno Documenters are a group of local residents who are trained and paid to attend and take notes at local public meetings where officials decide how to spend public money and make important decisions...