OAKLAND -- The East Bay's largest public bus operator has unanimously approved a hard-fought contract with its drivers and mechanics that includes raises and requires workers to pay toward their health care premiums for the first time.

Under the deal ratified by AC Transit's elected board late Wednesday following nine months of talks and a threatened strike, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192's members will receive a 3 percent pay hike retroactive to Oct. 6 of last year, an additional 3 percent on Oct. 5 of this year and a final 3.5 percent on Oct. 4, 2015.

The increase will push up the top hourly wage rate for a driver a total of 9.8 percent, from the current $25.68 to $28.20 by the end of the contract. Their last raise was in 2009.

But the 935 union-represented workers will have to use some of that extra cash to help cover their medical, dental and vision insurance premiums. As of Jan. 1, they began paying a flat $120 a month toward their coverage regardless of the number of dependents. The district previously paid 100 percent of the cost.

"My only qualm is that we still have an unsustainable pension plan, and this contract does nothing to help with that," AC Transit Board President Greg Harper of Emeryville told his colleagues and the public. "In the next contract, I hope we can start to address it."

The district will continue to pay the workers' full retirement contribution payments compared with other public employee unions such as BART, where workers will start sharing in those costs.

After subtracting employees' new monthly health insurance contributions, the three-year deal will cost AC Transit $3.3 million a year, or 1 percent of its $314 million annual operating budget.

Other contract provisions include:

  • Workers will be allowed up to five "unreported absences" within a 12-month period before they are subject to disciplinary action, a reduction from six. And employees who have nine misses in the same period may be fired, a drop from 10.

  • No more double health insurance coverage will be allowed for workers with more than one family member employed at AC Transit.

  • Restrooms along the routes designated for drivers' use will be regularly inspected for cleanliness and alternates provided if they remain unclean for more than 48 hours.

    The union ratified the deal Dec. 27 after voting down two similar previous tentative agreements.

    Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773. Follow her at Twitter.com/lvorderbrueggen.