Contract negotiations between Chittenden County Transportation Authority and drivers have come to a halt, and a driver strike remains a possibility as the parties enter fact-finding, a last-ditch effort to save the negotiations.
Tony St. Hilaire, a spokesman for the Teamsters Local 597 Union, which represents the CCTA drivers, said the parties can’t find common ground on issues of “discipline, working conditions and hours.” One of the drivers’ central complaints is the amount of time they have to remain on call between driving shifts. Some drivers work during morning and evening rush hours but are otherwise on standby during the day, he said.
“They’re hourly and they only get paid while they’re driving,” St. Hilaire said. “Other than that, they’re on their own.”
The union is also requesting that CCTA rework its disciplinary protocols for drivers, but would not comment further on that issue.
“We’ve been in negotiations for a couple months,” St. Hilaire said. “We came to an impasse last Thursday and we will be going to fact-finding.”
In fact-finding, the parties jointly choose an outside consultant to go over both sides’ proposals and try to find common ground. At the end of that period, the CCTA will meet again with union representatives to try to work out a solution. If no agreement is reached, St. Hilaire said, the drivers may strike.
Bill Watterson, general manager of CCTA, said speculation about a possible strike is premature.
“I don’t think that that kind of commentary is constructive,” he said. “I think that there is a possibility that we can figure out a way to have successful contract negotiations and the fact finding is sort of an extension of the contract negotiation process.”
Contract negotiations happen regularly between the CCTA and its drivers. The sunset of each contract is dictated by the contract itself, but Watterson said negotiations have historically occurred every three years. Watterson said he was not aware of drivers striking in the past, and he is confident this year will be no exception.
“There’s lots of opportunities to resolve the issues between the parties,” Watterson said, “and I’m confident that will happen.”