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With No End In Sight, BRTA Strike Hits Riders Hard

This is a picture of a Berkshire Regional Transit Authority bus
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A strike by workers at the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority has led to limited schedules – and frustrated riders.

The BRTA says Wednesday a new offer made to its 15 striking paratransit drivers had been rejected by Teamsters Local 404 – the union representing the workers. With an additional 38 employees refusing to cross picket lines, that means its limited service will continue for the foreseeable future – much to the chagrin of the riders who depend on it.

“It’s been tough. We’ve been sitting here for about three hours with my daughter," Jason Gardner told WAMC. "I couldn’t even bring her to school because the transportation wouldn’t to get me in time to get her from school. It’s just been crazy.”

Gardner, 31, is from Adams. He spoke to WAMC in the BRTA’s main terminal in downtown Pittsfield. His daughter, Addison, is 6. Gardner says the bus is his only way to get to Pittsfield, with no car and no budget for pricey taxi rides.

“I understand if they feel like they should get paid more," said Gardner. "That’s their prerogative, but I feel – I mean, they did their contract not that long ago, maybe they should have brought it up then?”

“It’s a bit of a long trek for me," said Kenzie Soto, 20, from North Adams. A Berkshire Community College student, she works in a daycare with special needs students. She says the limited schedules are making it tough to balance her education with her livelihood.

“It’s been really hard," Soto told WAMC. "I haven’t been able to get to my math classes because of how the scheduling is. There’s only certain times that the buses come now, and sometimes it gets me late for work, so sometimes I can’t even come here at all because I don’t want to risk being late for work.”

State Senator Adam Hinds says his office has been in contact with both the BRTA and the Teamsters, though he hasn’t been involved in the mediation.

“It’s fundamental to folks getting to work, getting access to health – and nowhere is that even more critical than our paratransit vehicles, so this really is a deep concern that we’re impacting regular access around the region,” said the Democrat.

However, Hinds also says that the union’s fight is nothing to be dismissed.

“We can’t have folks working 40 hours a week and still struggling to make ends meet and get food on the table, and so we take this effort to reach a living wage very seriously and I also think that as a result, the state needs to reflect that effort in the budgets that we control,” he told WAMC.

State aid to regional transit authorities increased by around $8 million this year.

While the Teamsters were not available for comment Wednesday, business agent Victor Santiago spoke with WAMC earlier in December about what the union members are looking for.

“They want to make a decent wage for a living, and the company’s not offering that,” said Santiago.

The BRTA had previously released their last rejected offer to the workers - a 16 percent wage increase for fulltime operators and an almost 20 percent increase for part-time operators.

The BRTA’s limited schedule is available here.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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