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JUDGE SENDS LAWSUIT OVER JAMESTOWN BUS SERVICE TO TRIAL

Fixed-route bus service in Jamestown will continue while a $14 million lawsuit filed by the former city bus drivers union against the city and Chautauqua County is decided in court.

In a 37-page decision handed down Monday, State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Gerace ruled there are sufficient issues to be decided by a jury trial. Chautauqua County had been seeking to have the case dismissed.

Charles DeAngelo, attorney for Local 1054 of the Amalgamated Transit Union was pleased with the ruling. He said the union all along has been seeking a trial.

"We felt very strongly that the facts supported that conclusion. There was cooperation between the city and the county (over a bus system) and part of that included the receipt of federal funds. In addition, the county indicated that it was going to consolidate bus service," DeAngelo said.

The Chautauqua Area Rural Transportation System (CARTS) started the fixed routes earlier this year, after the City Council last fall shut down the Jamestown Area Regional Transit System (JARTS). The JARTS shutdown left union employees out of work, but the county has refused to hire unionized drivers for CARTS.

"The county simply should have put them to work and spared everyone the need to continue with this lawsuit," DeAngelo added.

The county also was seeking to limit its liability in the case by suspending CARTS service as of Aug. 1. Gerace ordered the service to remain intact, provided the union holds the county harmless for damages during the time the dispute continues.

DeAngelo said the union has agreed to that waiver, but the county must consent to an immediate trial as a condition of the damage waiver.

County Executive Andrew Goodell said, "Clearly the judge is trying to balance the needs of Jamestown residents for bus service with the need to protect innocent taxpayers against potential liability."

Goodell also said the trial was ordered mainly because neither side wanted to take the matter to a U.S. Labor Department dispute resolution process, which Gerace had outlined as a possibility last week.

Union secretary Randy Woleen said, "This is the decision we had hoped for culminating the many months we have been working on this. We are happy that the judge is going to give us our day in court."

A pretrial conference is scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday.

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