Saturday, April 16, 2011

Deal reached, Burlington bus strike avoided

The settlement, first reported on the Burlington Free Press’ website, was announced shortly after 8 p.m. by Messier; Burlington lawyer Joe McNeil, who represented CCTA management; and Elayne L. Tempel, the federal mediator from Portland, Maine.
“It’s been a long, very difficult but very productive day in the end,” McNeil said as the trio met with reporters at the Best Western Windjammer Conference Center on Williston Road.
Messier and McNeil said it would take another two weeks before the contract could be ratified by both sides.
“We do of course have to make sure this is written up, and it’s never over until it is absolutely over,” McNeil said. “But we are pretty confident that we have been careful enough about the language that we are going to write and agree to that at the end of the day, or the evening, we will be good to go.”
Acrimony between CCTA bus drivers and the authority had been simmering for months.
In November, bus drivers rejected a contract proposal because of objections about hiring part-time workers to handle busy rush-hour bus routes. The drivers also objected to working split shifts that broke up their days and left them little time for relaxation between shifts.Most of the terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but the settlement means buses will roll today for the 9,000 daily one-way riders who use the transit system in Burlington, South Burlington, Essex, Shelburne, Williston and Winooski.
“Both parties, we worked very hard to get to where we are,” Messier said. “Both parties made some movement to be able to come to an agreement.”
Once the proposed agreement is reduced to writing, it will be circulated among the 62 union members, who will be given a week or so to review and vote by mail, Messier said.
McNeil said the CCTA will wait until word is received from the union on its vote before calling a public meeting of the Board of Commissioners to weigh in. He said five commissioners were present at negotiations for much of Thursday.
The sides were camped out in conference rooms across the hall from each other, with Tempel shuttlinng back and forth throughout the day trying to bring home a settlement.
By early evening some of the tension seemed to have evaporated, and smiles were seen on faces of negotiators as they walked out to get some fresh air. In the end, Tempel said she was pleased.
“It was fairly tough, but the parties worked very hard at it,” she said. “The thing that they did is that they never quit listening to one another. That was very helpful. We didn’t know for sure until this evening whether we would have an agreement. Now we have a tentative agreement, and they are going to go write it and hopefully have a ratification.”
The agreement is retroactive to July 1.

Part-time hiring 

One of the sticking points had been a plan by CCTA to hire up to 13 part-time drivers to help fill shifts, and possibly cutting some drivers from 40 hours a week to 37½. There also was a concern about disciplinary procedures.
The agreement allows the CCTA to hire up to 13 part-time drivers, Michael Walker, a CCTA bus driver and a chief shop steward, and CCTA Acting General Manager Meredith Birkett said during a news conference.“We secured 40 hours for the majority of the people,” Walker said. “Some people will have to work at getting their hours, but in the long run they will be able to get their 40 hours to take care of their families.”
Union members had been seeking to protect full-time positions because they provide health and retirement benefits to employees, unlike part-time positions.
The tentative settlement also limits the frequency of split shifts, in which bus drivers work during the morning rush hour, take a break, then return to work. The normal cap on a work day will be 12½ hours, Walker said.
Birkett said CCTA agreed to meet with bus drivers regularly to develop schedules that minimize the number of times employees must work split shifts.
Walker expressed relief at the tentative settlement. “We do care very much about the passengers, and we’re glad we’ve come to an agreement,” Walker said. “We’re ready to move forward. We’re excited to move forward.”
CCTA Board Chairman Chapin Spencer said the tentative settlement means the public transportation organization can now concentrate on continuing CCTA’s growth. “This is where the exciting work gets to begin,” he said.
He said CCTA has grown 63 percent during the past 10 years and will now continue to grow.
Birkett said the negotiations were lengthy because the issues “deserved a lot of time and consideration.” In the end, bus service for passengers will continue uninterrupted. “We came through for them,” she said.

Won't have to walk 

Burlington school students were among those who could have been stranded by a drivers’ strike. The city has one of few school districts in Vermont that does not use a full-service yellow school bus system.
About a third of the district’s 3,680 students depend on CCTA “neighborhood special” routes daily under a contractual arrangement between the School District and the transportation authority. The arrangement is less expensive than a traditional school-bus system and potentially reduces the number of buses needed to ply city streets.
More here.

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