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Shuttle bus drivers go on strike at Phoenix airport

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) - Striking shuttle bus drivers at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport walked off the job on Tuesday in a labor dispute that could affect the estimated 25,000 riders who use rental cars and travel within the airport's terminals daily.

Union officials said an estimated 180 drivers and other related workers took to the picket lines at the off-airport rental car facility that serves the nation's 10th busiest airport, protesting a contract proposed by Veolia Transportation.

"We don't want to put anybody in the general public out, but Veolia is giving us no choice," Bob Bean, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433, told Reuters. The union represents the striking workers.

"They continue to bargain with us in bad faith," said Bean, adding that medical insurance hikes and working conditions are at the heart of the impasse.

But a top company official said in a statement that Veolia has made a fair offer to the workers and that there will be no stoppage in service.

"We've made contingency plans and fully intend to meet our contractual obligations to keep service operating," Veolia General Manager Michael Brown said. "Maintaining a high level of service is a priority."

Brown said the company remains open to further meetings with the union.

Airport officials said the workers operate shuttle buses running from the Rental Car Center to the three airport terminals, an estimated 20,000 people daily. The shuttles also transport passengers within the three terminals and the west economy parking lot, an estimated 5,500 people daily.

Talks between Veolia and the transit union broke off several weeks ago, when the company made what it called its "best and final" offer. The two sides have been embroiled in contentious labor negotiations for more than a year.

Included in the strike are about 150 drivers and another 30 so-called ambassadors, who help people at the curbside. Bean said both contracts expired last year.

Workers voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to authorize the strike, union leaders said.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Ken Wills)

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