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Bus Authority Authorizes Replacement Drivers

WAMC/Pat Bradley

The transportation agency in Vermont's largest county has authorized its staff to secure temporary bus drivers until negotiations with striking drivers are resolved.

Bus drivers in Chittenden County went on strike March 17th. Among the sticking points in negotiations for a new three-year contract are the use of anonymous complaints as the basis for discipline, the time drivers are idle between driving shifts and the use of part-time drivers.

Chittenden County Transportation Authority commissioners passed a resolution Monday evening that says “In the interest of restoring transit service as quickly as possible, the Board authorizes staff... to secure temporary drivers until the negotiation is resolved.” It continues with a request that an action plan be prepared that includes options for legal action to end the strike.
CCTA Director of Service Development Meredith Birkett explains that the plan must be ready for commissioners by Thursday.  “The board’s consideration of temporary drivers is really based on concerns for the passengers who have been without service now for over two weeks. Their major focus right now is trying to figure out a way to get service on the street as quickly as possible. Obviously they want a resolution to the contract negotiations, they want he strike to end. But while we pursue those options they are willing to consider temporary workers in order to get that service up and running as quickly as possible.”
The CCTA Community Solidarity Committee supports the striking drivers. Member Traven Leyshon believes CCTA management is attempting to frighten the unionized drivers.  “This goes hand in hand with the fact that they canceled their health coverage today. And failed to provide the drivers with the information that they’re legally required to provide under the COBRA law. This is a negotiating ploy.”  

Vermont Workers’ Center Executive Director James Haslam believes the threat of hiring replacements is merely a political move by management that would be impractical and unsafe.  “The amount of time that it would take to get new replacement drivers up, that don’t know this community, is not anything that this community is going to tolerate. People in this community are solidly behind the bus drivers. What the CCTA Board of Commissioners should do and the management is get back to the negotiating table. The drivers have asked for that. They’ve come up with a counter proposal. It’s overdue to get a fair contract and end this thing.”

Teamsters representative Rob Slingerland says drivers see the board’s resolution as proof that management does not want to negotiate in good faith. “We’re pretty confident that this is just another sign that the company is running out of options.  Which is why we’re standing strong. The messages they put out in their press releases are half-truths, if any truth at all, which is why our support is so strong. But, right now, the mood of the drivers are stand fast and firm. We are united more than we ever were and we are going to remain that way until they give us a fair and respectable contract.”

Additional negotiations between the union and CCTA have been scheduled for Wednesday at 5 p.m. About 9,700 riders board the buses daily, including students from the Burlington school system and the University of Vermont.

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