August 28, 2014

Town bus lines quiet during driver strike

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A Williston bus shelter stands empty during a CCTA driver union strike. While some LINK commuter lines are operating, all Williston runs have stopped. (Observer photo by Stephanie Choate).

A Williston bus shelter stands empty during a CCTA driver union strike. While some LINK commuter lines are operating, all Williston runs have stopped. (Observer photo by Stephanie Choate).

By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

Williston’s three bus lines went quiet Monday after approximately 70 Chittenden County Transit Authority bus drivers went on strike over working conditions, split shifts and part-time drivers.

“Drivers are calling for a fair contract that treats drivers with respect, avoids increasing driver fatigue and creates livable jobs,” driver spokesman Rob Slingerland said in a press release. “The drivers can’t live under the terms of management’s last proposal.”

As of press time on Wednesday afternoon, no meetings had been scheduled. Drivers say they have a proposal, though CCTA management says it has not yet seen a formal counter-proposal.

The drivers went on strike Monday at 6 a.m., after rejecting a CCTA proposal and two CCTA offers of binding third-party arbitration.

“CCTA is deeply concerned about the impact of the drivers’ strike on our passengers and the communities we serve,” said Bill Watterson, CCTA general manager, in a press release. “CCTA’s last proposal to the Union was exceedingly fair, reasonable and respectful, including generous pay increases and flexibility in work rules in response to issues raised by the Union in negotiations. Unfortunately, the Union was not satisfied and now it is in their court to put a compromising counter proposal on the table in order to restore face-to-face negotiations and the transportation services our communities rely on.”

CCTA Director of Service Development Meredith Birkett said there are three bus lines in Williston. The Williston route, which runs frequently between Burlington and Williston from 6:15 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., has average weekday ridership of 1,530 people per day. An extension of that line goes into Essex, drawing an average of 105 weekday riders. A commuter route that goes into the Williston village gets an average of 55 riders per weekday. Birkett said half of the people on the bus on any given day are going to or from work.

Vermont Workers Center organizer Matt McGrath said drivers have reached out to CCTA management to meet, but CCTA “is putting conditions on every request,” including having a mediator present.

“Drivers want nothing more than to get back on their buses and drive again,” he said.

McGrath said the drivers’ main concern surrounds what they call “predatory management.”

“What it comes down to for these folks is they feel like they’re being harassed and disciplined and bullied at work,” McGrath said, and they want methods for improving the workplace and processes for addressing concerns put in place.

“They just want to be treated with respect and dignity at work,” he said.

CCTA says it is committed to creating “a more collaborative workplace.” It also says it has cameras onboard buses to ensure the safety of its passengers, but that it does not constantly monitor them. It uses the cameras to respond to passenger complaints and for accident investigation.

Other issues include a proposed increase in spread time on split shifts. Currently, when drivers work a split shift—a total of 8 work hours split into two shifts—the standard spread time is 12.5 hours, and drivers can be forced to span a time of up to 15 hours. CCTA’s proposal would increase the standard spread time to 13.5 hours, though CCTA press releases say that proposal came from the union.

Drivers say the split shift leads to fatigue, since drivers must be available during the spread time.

Drivers also say CCTA wants to bring in more part-time drivers. According to a CCTA press release, however, the most recent CCTA proposal would allow it to hire a maximum of seven part-time drivers, down from the 13 allowed in the 2010-13 contract. Currently, there is only one part-time driver.

CCTA says it uses split shifts and part-time drivers to make sure busy commuting times in the morning and late afternoon are covered.

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