MEMBERS of Teamsters Local 853 at Gillig Bus Corp. try to dissuade a trucker Monday from crossing picket linesoutside the company’s Hayward on the
MEMBERS of Teamsters Local 853 at Gillig Bus Corp. try to dissuade a trucker Monday from crossing picket lines outside the company's Hayward on the first day of a walkout by union employees. (D. Ross Cameron - Staff)
ABOUT 500 union workers went on strike Monday at transit bus maker Gillig Corp.'s Hayward plant, where one man was arrested for trying to block a truck driver from crossing a picket line.

Contract negotiations have been ongoing for about two months. The workers are seeking increased wages and increased company contributions for rising health care costs.

About 440 workers represented by Teamsters Local 853 and another 60 workers represented by the Painters Local 1176 struck at the plant on Clawiter Road at 5 a.m. After striking workers blocked a truck driver from entering the facility, he got out of his truck and a fight started about 6:30 a.m., but broke up before Hayward police arrived, police Lt. Reid Lindblom said.

Interviews with the driver and others still on the scene led to the arrest of Wayne Overson, 54, of Union City, on suspicion of making criminal threats, battery and vandalism.

Teamsters Local 853's principal officer Rome Aloise called it a trumped-up incident. "Sometimes you'll see a company do things to exacerbate a situation," he said. "We preach being peaceful and picketing peacefully. We're chalking this up to over-exuberance by a fewpeople."

Gillig is one of the top producers of transit buses in North America and one of the the only remaining American bus makers that builds buses from the ground up. The company produces about 25 public transit buses a week for cities across the country.

Bo Morgan, a business representative of Teamsters Local 853 in San Leandro, which represents most of the striking workers, said he did not know how long the strike would last.

"I'd like to tell you it's going to be short lived and we'll be going back to the negotiating table, but I can't," Morgan said.

A Gillig official said the company had no comment.

Gillig presented its "last, best and final offer" over the weekend, Morgan said, and union representatives recommended workers accept it. Nonetheless, about 325 workers participated in the strike vote and elected to strike by a 30-vote margin, Morgan said. The company withdrew its contract offer Monday.

It's the first strike in 30 years at Gillig, after seven successful signed bargaining agreements.

"A lot of the old-timers are gone, and the new group wants to make a stand and a point," Morgan said. "It's hard to get the mood of the workers right now."

A journeyman Gillig worker earns about $22 per hour, Morgan said.

Gillig is one of the last heavy transportation manufacturers left in the Bay Area. Years ago, Caterpillar, International Harvester, Mack Trucks, Ford and General Motors all operated plants here.

GM operates a joint venture with Toyota called New United Manufacturing Motor Inc. in Fremont, which makes more than 400,000 cars and trucks a year.

Gillig was founded in 1890 in San Francisco. The company's competition includes North American Bus Industries and Orion Bus Industries.

Staff Writer Alejandro Alfonso contributed to this report. Contact Tim Simmers at tsimmers@angnewspapers.com or (650) 348-4361.