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Strike averted at Central Ohio Transit Authority

A COTA bus drivers strike has once again been averted -- for the moment. The COTA board voted Wednesday evening to invite the local Transport Workers union back to the bargaining table. The two sides have been negotiating a new 3-year contract for the past 10 months. WOSU's Sam Hendren reports

A yellow line had already been painted across the grounds of COTA headquarters to keep union picketers off the bus company's property. On Wednesday afternoon, following a 3-and-a-half-hour executive session, the board opened its meeting to the public and the barrage of criticism from bus drivers began

Once in your life tell the truth to the public, not constant lying every day you get on the radio just to lie!!!

Wages for some 600 workers have been one of the most contentious issues. Joseph Day, who identified himself as a 23-year veteran of COTA, defended his job performance and his salary

I don't think you could ask for a better operator than me. And when it comes to service I think I'm the best there is. And do I think I'm worth $21 an hour? You bet!

Jim Lowe, representing the group Jobs with Justice asked the COTA board to rethink actions that would lead to a strike

You should not take any action that would push this any closer to the precipice that it is headed to at this point. Please reconsider. And treat your workers right. COTA President Bill Lhota later laid out the company's gloomy budget figures -the company has operated in the red for four of the past five years. He said 2005 started with a projected budget deficit of 1-point-3 million dollars, but that had already more than doubled

No business, no personal checkbook can continue to exist when you spend more money than you bring in. That's been exacerbated significantly because we're now forecasting a budget deficit of 2.7 to 2.9 million dollars, due to factors beyond our control. Number 1, a significant shortfall in sales tax, and secondly, the dramatic rise in fuel costs; both diesel fuel and gasoline.

In the end, the board approved a resolution as a sort of compromise. Board President Bill Porter says the company's offer remains the same, but no employee would suffer a salary reduction. How funds are allocated will be decided through negotiations.

It provides some wiggle room within the financial parameters established by the final offer for the union and management to shift if you will the impact of the final offer

Local union head Theotis James seemed amenable to the offer

I'm not turning down the chance to talk again. We will probably accept the invitation to sit again across the table and see what we need to do next.

Sam Hendren, WOSU News