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Union rejects proposal, strands 57,000 Valley bus riders

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Picketers gathered at Rio Salado Parkway and Priest Drive in Tempe on Thursday morning after bus drivers with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433 went on strike at midnight. (Source: CBS 5 News) Picketers gathered at Rio Salado Parkway and Priest Drive in Tempe on Thursday morning after bus drivers with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433 went on strike at midnight. (Source: CBS 5 News)
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PHOENIX (CBS5/AP) -

Hundreds of bus drivers in the Phoenix area went on strike at midnight, which shut down public transportation and affected more than 57,000 riders in several area cities.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433, which represents about 400 drivers, rejected a final offer again on Wednesday from First Transit, the company that operates buses for the Valley Metro Regional Public Transportation Authority.

ATU 1433 President Bob Bean said the proposal was rejected early Wednesday afternoon.

The bus drivers' strike began at midnight and shut down 40 of Valley Metro's routes, primarily in Mesa, Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert and express service from those communities to downtown Phoenix and Scottsdale. The 40 routes represent nearly half the company's total routes.

Mesa Mayor Scott Smith released the following statement about the stoppage:

"I am extremely disappointed to hear that First Transit and Amalgamated Transit Union 1433 were unable to agree upon a contract before last night's deadline leaving our residents without bus transportation that many of them rely on.

"The contract is between the bus service provider and the bus drivers, but it is our residents who are suffering. I encourage the parties to work diligently towards a resolution. While the City of Mesa is not directly involved in the negotiations, we will do whatever we can to assist the process and find a solution."

Susan Tierney, of Valley Metro, said the transit service had been asking passengers to prepare for alternative travel options for nearly a week.

"We didn't know a strike would happen, but we hope people have backup plans in place," she said early Thursday morning.

She encouraged bus riders to contact friends, neighbors and family members for rides to work.

She also reminded riders the company offers car and van pools across the Valley. Valley Metro's light rail service can also add cars if demand warrants it, she said.

Officials at Discount Cab said they logged 1,000 trips per hour between 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. They said the 14,000 trips in a single Thursday set a record. 

She said Valley Metro supervisors not affected by the work stoppage would be traveling the Valley to make people aware of the strike.

She also said additional information can be found at Valley Metro's website, and on its Facebook and Twitter pages.

First Transit and the ATU have been in labor negotiations since the first of the year to define their agreement over wages, benefits and work rules.

In January, Valley Metro executed a contract with First Transit to serve as the operator of bus service originating from the Tempe and Mesa bus maintenance facilities.

On July 1, First Transit assumed responsibility for the operations of 40 local, express and circulator routes primarily serving the East Valley.

First Transit also supports an operations and maintenance staff of more than 700, including more than 500 operators and a bus fleet of 300.

After negotiations unraveled over the past month, bus drivers on June 19 overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike. A federal mediator then intervened.

Stay with cbs5az.com for updates on this developing story.

Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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