Monday, April 11, 2011

CCTA bus drivers reject contract

Chittenden County Transportation Authority bus drivers overwhelmingly rejected a proposed three-year contract Sunday and began bracing for a strike.
Bus drivers could go out on strike at 12:01 a.m. Friday if a federal mediation session fails Thursday, said Jim Fouts, a spokesman for the drivers.

A strike would halt bus service in Burlington, South Burlington, Winooski, Essex, Williston and Shelburne. It also would impact the so-called link trips to Middlebury, Montpelier, Milton and St. Albans, Fouts said.

CCTA hopes the mediation session with Elaine Temple will settle the ongoing dispute, said its lawyer, Joe McNeil of Burlington on Sunday after being told the vote results.

He noted the rejected contract was proposed by the union leadership to CCTA management following a fact-finding session with mediator Ira Lobel. CCTA management approved the union offer, he said.

The drivers voted 52-6 to rebuff the contract that had been agreed upon by the two negotiating committees, Fouts said.

“We are pretty united; 52 no votes says something,” said Fouts, who noted almost all the drivers eligible to vote had submitted their ballots by mail by the deadline so they could be counted Sunday in Barre.

“I think that the local and the drivers are very united on this. What we want is not unsolvable. That it has come this far amazes me,” Fouts said.

The stumbling points are a plan by the CCTA to increase the number of part-time bus drivers to 13 to help cover shifts and the possibility of cutting full-time hours from 40 to 37½ each week.

“All full-time workers will still be offered to work 40 hours,” McNeil said about the CCTA’s position. “No full-time workers will be reduced to accommodate part-timers.”

McNeil said CCTA has heavy use in the early mornings and late afternoons for commuters, but there is a very light load during the day.

“The point we are making is we want to protect jobs,” Fouts said.

Fouts said the drivers believe the contract calls for greater use of part-time drivers and that means a reduction in the number of full-time drivers.

He said the work schedule under the proposed contract has 56 full-time drivers and the part-timers filling the other shifts. There are 62 full-time drivers now.

“Six would lose their jobs. We are looking out for everybody. We are not going to accept people losing their jobs,” Fouts said. He maintains CCTA also wants to cut up to 2½ hours of work each week from drivers.

The union could have gone on strike this Thursday, but an agreement was reached by both sides to extend it at least 24 hours in order to give a federal mediator one last chance to settle the dispute, McNeil said.

The proposed three-year contract would have been retro-active to July 1, 2010. The bus drivers have continued to work under the terms of the old contract.

“If we cannot come to an agreement, we will go on strike,” Fouts said. 

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