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Striking Union Drivers Approve New Contract

WAMC/Pat Bradley

Eighteen days after Chittenden County Transit Authority bus drivers began walking picket lines, a tentative contract was approved by the drivers this afternoon to end the work stoppage.

A 10-hour session with negotiators and mediators talks that lasted until 3 o’clock in the morning led to a new contract proposal Thursday morning. Striking union members voted on the proposed contract at noon and by mid-afternoon, the announcement came that drivers accepted. Vermont Workers Center Executive Director James Haslam says all of the drivers’ core demands were met.  “The issues around discipline and also around maintaining the 12 ½ hour shift spread, those issues  were met.”

The community supported the drivers over the course of the nearly three-week strike. A CCTA Community Solidarity Committee was formed and riders were often on the picket lines with union members. Matt McGrath, a member of the Solidarity Committee and an organizer with the Vermont Workers Center, calls the contract approval a big victory for CCTA drivers and Vermont’s labor community.  “The drivers went on strike for safer working conditions, including not extending the spread time between their shifts and trying to limit what they called predatory management. Those are two demands that were met eventually by management, unfortunately after three weeks of no busses but they’ve come to agreement on the drivers’ core demands.”

Previous contract proposals had been unanimously rejected by the union drivers. As the two sides hunkered down in the latest round of negotiations, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger urged an end to the dispute. McGrath does not believe their input influenced Thursday’s outcome.  “There’s been weeks of mounting pressure on the CCTA management to do the right thing and settle the contract, a fair contract with the workers, to meet their reasonable demands. I think frankly probably the governor and the mayor found it a politically expedient time to weigh in just before it looked like an agreement was  going to be reached.”

McGrath believes there were two key reasons the drivers were successful in having their core issues met.  “The drivers themselves staying unified as a group. The second was the tremendous outpouring of support from the community. Student groups, labor groups, riders and progressively increasing their support over the weeks of the strike. Because of those things it was imminent that management would have to concede to the demand of the drivers.”

James Haslam agrees that the interaction between the drivers and community was critical in resolving the contract dispute.  “It was clear to this community that these folks were on strike and standing up for dignity and respect. But they were also standing up for the community and for public safety and for their ability to provide quality service to this community. They thought that was being undermined. A lot of people, certainly in the labor movement, but across this community gained a tremendous amount of respect for these men and women who stood together.”

The union planned a victory celebration late this afternoon. The CCTA Board of Commissioners must also approve the contact. A special meeting was scheduled late Thursday afternoon, where it was expected the contract would be approved by management.   
Buses were expected to be back in service Friday morning.

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