For the second time in two months, Monterey-Salinas Transit says it is planning for major service reductions because of a national labor dispute.
About $3 million in federal transit money — about one-twelfth of MST's annual operating budget — is being held up in Washington, D.C., because the Amalgamated Transit Union has asked the U.S. Department of Labor to hold up allocations to California transit agencies, an MST official said Thursday.
In December, MST issued a similar warning when the same dispute — prompted by California's new public pension law — threatened to block a $3 million payment that was due by Dec. 31.
"They resolved that payment in our favor," said Hunter Harvath, MST's assistant general manager. "This is money moving forward. ... Any future payments would be subject to the same blockage."
A message left at the Marina local of the transit union, which represents MST drivers, mechanics and other employees, wasn't returned.
Harvath said the union contends the pension reform law treads into areas that should be left to collective bargaining.
He said the blockage of federal money to public transit operators in the state represents between $3 billion and $4 billion. But many larger agencies — unlike MST, which uses the money for employee and fuel costs — can't use the funds for operating expenses.
"This is part of our life blood. If it is going to be yanked, we are going to be proactive," he said.
He said conversations are beginning in Sacramento over the issue, but he couldn't say when, or if, it would be resolved.
Without the federal money, MST would have to scale back its bus service by about 30 percent, to a scale supportable by state sales and fuel taxes and passenger fares.
The agency scheduled three community workshops to hear from the public. They will be at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 28 at Pacific Grove council chambers, 300 Forest Ave; 11:30 a.m. Jan. 29 at the Marina Senior Center, 211 Hillcrest Ave.; and 5:30 p.m. Jan. 29 at Seaside's Oldemeyer Center, 986 Hilby Ave.
Larry Parsons can be reached at 646-4379 or firstname.lastname@example.org.