A strike that reduced buses to a limited schedule for more than two weeks in Berkshire County is over.
The head of the Berkshires’ public transit system says it found common ground with striking workers Tuesday afternoon.
“Through the mediator, offers went back and forth and we came to an agreement," said Robert Malnati - who has been the administrator of the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority since December 2014.
“Well, I was disappointed in the fact that an accord wasn’t reached earlier on,” he told WAMC.
The strike began December 2nd. 15 paratransit drivers took to the picket line – and the BRTA’s other 38 unionized employees refused to cross it.
“I’m thankful that the fixed route people are back to work and our customers now can be served throughout the whole county instead of the limited service that we were providing," said Malnati, "And that the paratransit employees will be back to work tomorrow and that they have a contract for the next three years.”
“Paratransit is a group that provides services to the most needy people in town," said Teamsters 404 business agent Victor Santiago. "People in wheelchairs, people that need to be brought to the hospital for dialysis, people that apply and can’t purchase tickets because they don’t have transportation, and they take them from point A to point B. Not everybody can use the service because you have to qualify for it before you can buy tickets and pay for it.”
Earlier this month, Santiago told WAMC that negotiations over the drivers’ contracts had begun even before they expired in June. They were working to secure a wage above 2019’s minimum.
“Nobody can support their family with a $12 wage package," he said. "You make $12, a full-time employee, how are you going to support your family?”
Malnati says that the deal the union ultimately accepted from the BRTA was slightly higher than a rejected 16 percent increase plan for full-time drivers that would have been spread out over three years.
“Additional funding was added to the full-time so it ended up being I believe a little more than 17 percent,” he said.
Malnati said the wage increase in the second year of the three-year contract was bolstered in the final deal that ended the strike.
“Right now, the fixed route bus drivers are running today and because we had to give notice to the paratransit contractors, tomorrow morning will be when the purple and white vehicles for the paratransit division will be back out on the street,” said the BRTA administrator.
The Teamsters 404 – the union representing the striking paratransit drivers – did not respond to multiple requests for comment from WAMC about the end of the strike.