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The Utah Transit Authority is checking out five fact-finders as a step toward resolving a contract dispute with employees, but union representatives say the company is dragging its feet.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 382 called for fact-finding in January after agreement could not be reached on a new contract regarding wages, benefits, retirement and working conditions. The previous three-year contract expired Dec. 10, 1991.Legally, no strike or lock-out can occur, so about 850 drivers, mechanics and parts-department employees still are on the job working under the provisions of the old contract.

Buses still are running, and there will be no disruption of service.

Both sides tried mediation unsuccessfully. Fact-finding involves picking a neutral third party to investigate the disputed issues.

Bill Barnes, UTA spokesman, said the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service has supplied a panel of five potential fact-finders. They need experience in such things as conflict resolution, public sector disputes and transportation.

"We're in the process of getting resumes to make sure they meet qualifications," Barnes said.

Both the union and the company can delete names from the list until one person is found to be acceptable to both sides, he said. That person will research the deadlocked labor talks and make a non-binding recommendation to the UTA board of directors.

The board, in turn, will evaluate the recommendation and make a decision.

Because of the complexity of the issues involved, this all takes time, Barnes said. "Even in the best of circumstances, I think you're looking at several months" before the dispute is settled, he said.

However, Dan Butterfield, president of ATU Local 382, doesn't think it needs to take so long.

He said a letter he wrote, which the company signed, outlined the traits a fact-finder for this case should possess, so no additional research into the individuals should be necessary, he said.

The union is not seeking resumes or other information about the five potential panel members, although the company has said it will make information it receives available to the union.