Bus drivers and advocates gathered on Church Street in Burlington today to speak out against the management of the Chittenden County Transportation Authority, which they said is pushing for unfair working conditions.
The drivers union and CCTA management have been in an extended standoff since contract negotiation efforts failed in September, and drivers said a “best and final offer” made by management last month was unacceptable. The union voted that proposal down by a wide margin.
Representatives from the University of Vermont faculty union, a nurses’ organization at Fletcher Allen Health Care and Burlington City Council all spoke in solidarity with the drivers at the event, emphasizing drivers' importance in connecting the community and the need for fair working conditions.
Drivers and management have acknowledged that a strike is a possibility.
“We don’t want to go on strike,” said driver Rob Slingerland at today’s event. “But the union and its members are prepared to go on strike. What we want is a fair contract, and that’s what we’re working for.”
The groups are scheduled to meet Friday with a mediator in an effort to find a working proposal.
“As far as I know, the mediator has come up with a proposal of her own that she thinks will benefit both sides,” said Slingerland. “If it’s not something we agree with, we do have a final offer for the company.”
The disagreements focus on working hours, the hiring of part-time drivers and working conditions. Slingerland, speaking for the drivers, said split shifts – already spread over 12 and a half hours – should not be any more spread out, and that full-time drivers already struggle to get enough hours without the seven part-time drivers the company has proposed.
CCTA offered “clarification” on some of these points. A press release sent after the drivers’ event [PDF] said that “CCTA’s most recent proposals included acceptance of a Union proposal to change the maximum span time between a split shift’s start and end time from 12.5 to 13.5 hours.” It added that the proposal to allow seven part-time drivers is actually a reduction; the authority is currently allowed 13.
Slingerland and other advocates were highly critical of CCTA’s management style. One issue in the contract negotiations has been the level of detail required in the contract. Drivers, Slingerland said, want more detail so management – especially CCTA attorney Joe McNeil – can’t take advantage of vague language.
“He’s good at his loopholes,” Slingerland said of McNeil. “Our biggest battle is the intent. We often get ‘That’s not how I interpret it,’ or ‘That’s not what we agreed on.’ We want to get rid of that. We understand there’s going to be gray area, but we don’t want so much of it.”
The CCTA’s use of the surveillance cameras on every bus is another issue, Slingerland said. Under the old contract, CCTA management was only allowed to review footage from the cameras if there was a customer complaint or an accident. Slingerland said the management is now pushing for the right to review the footage for any reason.
The prospect of increased scrutiny makes drivers uncomfortable, he said.
“I believe the language on that will open up Pandora’s box,” he said. “They’re working under the notion that they have the right to run the company as they see fit, but when you have passengers on the bus that got their eyes on you, you got surveillance on the bus, you got all the other vehicles that can call up if you’re doing something wrong, but why the cameras?”
In some cases, Slingerland said, management has disciplined drivers for what they saw on the footage, even if it was unrelated to the original complaint. With contractual rights to review any footage any time, Slingerland said he was worried that practice would expand.
“We don’t mind the cameras, but we mind them when they’re used against us,” he said. “Because it always ends up us fighting and in the end walking away or going farther with the fight, and we’re just tired of fighting.”