Cecilia Lopez, the general chairperson representing Local 1701, announced that 28 months of uncertainty for her brothers and sisters have officially ended. The city of Montebello and SMART-TD have come to an agreement that has been ratified by a nearly unanimous vote by Local 1701 members. Lopez said the contract includes the largest pay increase she has seen in her career working for the city.

A fresh start for Montebello

GC Lopez made it clear that the city has turned a significant corner in how they treat our union members and its employees since they hired Raul Alvarez as city manager.

“It is hard to explain the difference in morale for our bus department since Alvarez came to Montebello,” she said. “Montebello’s Bus Department is now the place where people want to work.”

SMART-TD averts a crisis

Members of the SMART Transportation Division ratified a new agreement with the city of Montebello after more than two years of negotiations.

Since December 2021, the men and women of SMART-TD Local 1701 in Montebello, California, had been working without a contract. The team of Local Chairperson Betty Vasquez, GC Lopez and SMART-TD Vice Presidents Alvy Hughes and James Sandoval saw negotiations going down a dangerous path. At one point, 27 of our members were placed on administrative leave and faced termination, including Lopez and Vasquez.

 Thanks in part to their training and experience and with the help of a new administration in Montebello City Hall, the SMART-TD negotiating team was able to put both the city and Local 1701 on the road to a much brighter future.

Progress based on teamwork and mutual respect

When the dust settled, the Bus Department and SMART-TD Local 1701 stood together.

As GC Lopez put it, “Without Montebello Bus, there is no Montebello. This isn’t just a victory for us; it is a win for the people of this community.”

She said she’s very appreciative of the aid she received in this process from VPs Sandoval and Hughes, as well as the support her local received from Alternate Vice President Markeisha Hayes.  More than anything, she wanted to thank the men and women of Local 1701 for their continued support throughout this multi-year fight for a good contract.

“These men and women stuck together as a family, and they filled City Hall every time I asked them to,” she said. “I couldn’t be prouder to represent the people of Montebello’s Bus Department.”

Solidarity brings success

The success in Montebello is one example of the power of union solidarity. By working together, focusing on results and holding employers accountable, SMART-TD creates better lives and more secure futures for workers across the country.

Local 1701: There are very few moments in someone’s career when the power of a union comes into play more than when they have been targeted and fired as a result of private, union-protected conversations about a pending contract.

This is exactly what happened to 27 bus operators and mechanics out of Local 1701 in Montebello, California, this year. With a bus department made up of roughly 100 operators, service workers and mechanics combined, the city of Montebello has so far failed to negotiate a new contract with SMART-TD. Because of this, our members in Local 1701 have been working without a contract since December 21, 2021.


Obviously, this is a cause of concern for all our brothers and sisters on the property. Our members have been discussing the matter among themselves at local meetings and have been reaching out to their local officers. In early 2023, the city of Montebello, nervous about what was being said, resorted to an old-school union-busting technique straight from the 1800s and brought in private investigators to aggressively interview many of Local 1701’s members.

After allowing five months or more to go by, they brought the investigators back to the property to re-interview the same men and women they had harassed last fall. They interrogated our members with the same questions as the first round, and if any of their answers didn’t match up exactly, they put them on administrative leave pending termination for dishonesty and insubordination.


All in all, TWENTY-SEVEN of our brothers and sisters were put on administrative leave, and not coincidentally, they outright terminated Betty Vasquez, who is the local chairperson and vice general committee chair, along with placing General Chairperson Cecilia Lopez on administrative leave and serving her with intent-to-terminate paperwork.

All this was put in place as they and SMART-TD Vice President Alvy Hughes were fighting the city to get a fair contract that Montebello officials weren’t willing to sign.


When VP Hughes found out about Montebello’s blatant bullying and illegal tactics, he didn’t hesitate to get the TD office involved. VP Hughes filed an unfair labor practice charge against the city and assigned recently elevated fellow SMART-TD Bus Department Vice President James Sandoval to go to Montebello to represent and defend the members who were being interrogated by the private investigator and the city.

Once on the ground, Sandoval got into the details of the interviews and intimidation the city was using, and he also filed a separate unfair labor practice charge against Montebello, which stopped the interviews from continuing. General Chairperson Lopez and Vice Chairperson Vasquez, who have remained heavily involved in this fight even while facing their terminations, filed three additional charges of their own.

All told, SMART-TD officials levied five charges of unfair labor practices against the city and its leadership. In addition, they filed multiple information requests and reached out to many local politicians as well as the local labor council in Los Angeles for help.

VP Sandoval took one of the charges to a Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) hearing, which resulted in a settlement agreement where the city agreed to not violate our members’ right to protected activity moving forward.

27 members are reinstated and contract negotiations resume, marking another victory for SMART-TD.


Apparently, the points made in these charges hit home with the city. After SMART-TD’s show of support for Local 1701, they dropped the ridiculous charges on all 27 of our members and brought them all back to work. For the record, all were paid for the time they were out on the bogus charges. The city also requested a meeting with our union to settle the rest of the unfair labor practice charges, which resulted in a larger settlement agreement.


SMART-TD is grateful for the hard work and persistence of the men and women of Local 1701. We are beyond excited that everyone came back and nobody lost pay. But there is work left to be done. These 27 members and all their co-workers are still working with no contract!

These men and women were on the front lines, pulling the city through the COVID-19 pandemic. They continue to move their local economy despite the ongoing surge of violent assaults on public transit.

It is not acceptable that they bear this burden without the respect and peace of mind that comes with a ratified contract.


After the city was forced to do the right thing by our people and brought them back to work, they may have thought they were done hearing from SMART-TD for a while. THEY WERE WRONG.

At a recent Montebello City Council meeting, Local 1701 had a great show of force when many of their members came together at City Hall to demand good-faith negotiation of their contract. Joining them in their demonstration was VP Sandoval, as well as SMART-TD Bus Department Alternate Vice President of the Bus Department Markeisha Hayes.

Local 1701 has stood together throughout this multi-year ordeal, and absolutely nothing has or will change that. If Montebello wants SMART-TD to back off and stop stepping to the microphone in their boardroom, they need to negotiate a fair contract that reflects the hard work our members of Local 1701 have put in and give them the respect they deserve.

SMART-TD’s office thanks our members in Local 1701, especially GC Lopez and Vice Chairperson Vasquez, for continuing this fight. We want you to know that we are with you for the long haul. Keep standing up for this union, and most importantly, keep standing up for one another. Together, we will prevail.

MONTEBELLO, Calif. – SMART Transportation Division Local 1701 bus members here July 9 picketed outside Montebello City Hall prior to and during a meeting of city council to bring attention to their dispute with city over wages, rest periods, meal periods and payment of pension contributions.

Approximately 30 members attended the picket that was organized by Local President Rachel Burciaga and Local Chairperson Cecilia Lopez.

The members of Local 1701 come under the jurisdiction of General Committee of Adjustment BNSF Railway GO 020 and General Chairperson Tom Pate serves as the local’s chief negotiator. The employees voted for SMART representation in 2012 and the local’s charter was issued on Jan. 1, 2013.

SMART Local 1701 members picket Montebello, Calif., City Council meeting July 9.

“The city of Montebello doesn’t want change to improve the quality of life for either its full-time or part-time transit employees,” Pate said. “Local 1701 is still a young organization within SMART, but I can feel the momentum building among its membership.”

“We’ve been in negotiations for the last two years. Everything we have brought to the table, they say no to,” Lopez said. “We ask for a pay increase, they say no. But there’s money for special projects to repave the streets of Montebello, get new buses and hire new supervisors.”

She said the transit employees last received a pay raise in 2008.
Member Javier Olvera also expressed his exasperation outside the council meeting.

“We haven’t got a raise for six years and the cost of living is increasing. Now, instead of giving us a raise, they want to take away eight percent. That’s less food on the table for my kids and my family,” said Olvera, a bus operator for the past 11 years.


Olvera was referring to the dispute over who should pay for the employees’ share of pension costs. During the last year, the city has paid its nontransit employees’ share of their pension costs, but not for bus drivers, mechanics and service operators.
For more information about Local 1701’s labor dispute, see this article in the Whittier Daily News.