A mediated meeting between striking bus drivers and the management of the Chittenden County Transportation Authority will occur this weekend in hopes of ending a strike that has now lasted five days.
Bus drivers in Vermont’s largest county went on strike Monday after rejecting a proposed contract and a call by the company for binding arbitration.
CCTA confirmed in a press release that they received a written proposal from the union Thursday morning. The release from the transit authority noted the proposal is being reviewed and “The parties have agreed to a meeting the weekend of March 22, which will be mediated.....”
When contacted by WAMC Friday morning CCTA General Manager Bill Watterson declined to be interviewed explaining that the mediators requested both parties not make any public comment prior to the weekend meeting.
While the mediator imposed a news blackout on the two parties in the dispute, Ellen David Friedman notes it does not apply to community members nor the CCTA Community Solidarity Committee, which is aiding the drivers as they walk the picket lines. Friedman, an activist, retired union organizer and Solidarity Committee member, says the strength and unity of the union drivers is strong. “They’re incredibly unified. They are thinking about the issues. They take it very, very seriously. They’re considering the consequences of their actions. They didn’t go on strike lightly. Nobody ever does. They’re under quite a bit of pressure and their unity is great going into the negotiations on Saturday.”
Friedman notes that union drivers have worked 10 months without a contract, but it’s impossible to predict what will happen during the weekend meeting. “They clearly tried direct negotiations. They used a mediator and a fact-finder previously. They took the legal step that is available to them at the end the process. I don’t see any indication that they are likely to give up easily or give up their goals easily.”
Vermont Workers’ Center Organizer Matt McGrath says with dozens of community and labor organizations along with political leaders supporting the drivers the hope is that management will agree to the union demands and settle the contract. “We’ve heard a lot of things that the drivers have said about what they’re asking for. But what it really comes down to, I think, for most of the drivers is how they’re being treated at work. They call what’s going on at CCTA predatory management. We basically just want to see our community bus drivers being treated with dignity and respect.”
McGrath adds despite the disruption of transportation services, the drivers have overwhelming support from the community. “It’s a major inconvenience for most and more than a major inconvenience for some. But the community are 100 percent supporting the drivers in this effort.”
Community Solidarity Committee member Paul Fleckenstein believes no one wanted to go on strike less than the CCTA drivers. “They see this as a last resort and are very anxious to get back to work. I think there’s hope that the management is now willing to deal with problems at CCTA. Drivers’ unity during the first week of the strike and the enormous support has been encouraging. So I hope that management gets the message on what they need to do.”
Calls to union representatives were not returned in time for this broadcast.