North Country News
6:30 pm
Tue March 18, 2014

Bus Strike In Vermont’s Largest County Continues As Negotiations Stall

Credit David Wilson1949/Flickr

The issue is a moving target even if the rides have stopped. Bus drivers in Vermont’s most populated county remain on strike as negotiators argue over potential meetings and city leaders consider potential actions.

Drivers for the Chittenden County Transportation Authority went on strike Monday after rejecting proposed binding arbitration offers from management.  About 9,700 riders board the buses daily, including students from the Burlington school system and the University of Vermont.
Calls to CCTA General Manager Bill Watterson were not returned in time for this broadcast. According to a press release, the issues include wages, work rules, scheduling and hours and working conditions.

The most contentious issue appears to be drivers’ scheduling, called spread time. In published reports, Teamsters representative Rob Slingerland, who also did not return calls in time for this broadcast, explains that he works from 7 until 9 in the morning and 2:30 until 7:30 at night. He must be available for the hours in between, up to 15 hours, but is only paid for the actual hours worked. Drivers want better schedules. Vermont Workers’ Center Organizer Matt McGrath says it comes down to respect for the workers.  “The drivers for years now have felt intimidated and harassed at work. Their main sticking point in the contrat are things around harassment and discipline. They just want to be treated with respect They’re also concerned around part time workers and longer split shifts. But what it comes down to is having better language around how they’re disciplined at work.”

McGrath received an email while speaking with WAMC from the Teamsters’ business agent indicating that a meeting requested by the union for Wednesday was declined by CCTA management.

Progressive members of the Burlington City Council penned a letter to CCTA on Monday calling on management to craft a contract that improves working conditions. Ward 3 Progressive Vince Brennan notes the drivers rejected binding arbitration and opted to walk the picket line.  “There was a vote of 54 to 0. To me there has to be something to the bus drivers to have that solidarity in a vote. The wages were not the big issues. It was safety conditions that were more of a condition and fair work practices. So there must be something to what the bus drivers were actually saying with a  54 to 0 vote .”

Ward 1 Councilor-Elect Progressive Selene Colburn notes that while the strike impacts the city and riders, there is unwavering support for the drivers from the community.  “There are a lot of people who have daily relationships with these drivers. I think a lot of people feel a natural empathy. Beyond that there’s basic support for the underlying conditions that drivers are asking for here. They’re asking for reasonable working hours. They’re asking that their jobs not be out-sourced to part-time workers. And I think that resonates with our community.”

A special City Council meeting was planned Wednesday morning to discuss the strike, but was canceled late Tuesday afternoon.  City Council President Joan Shannon told WAMC if councilors would like to try to convene a meeting to discuss the issue, she will consider it.

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