Editor’s note: This commentary is by Ron Jacobs, a writer and library worker. He is the author of “The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground” and a fiction trilogy known as the “Seventies Series.” He is a longtime resident of Burlington.
The transit strike in Chittenden County needs to end. The solution is simple. In fact, it’s so simple that drivers, riders and observers are incredulous the strike continues. CCTA management should give on their demand that drivers be available 13.5 hours a day. That’s it. The other elements of the dispute in the negotiations have been resolved. The drivers are holding to their proposal that the shift be 12.5 hours maximum. The primary reason for the demand is one of safety. Why does CCTA management refuse to budge? Is it because they want to bust the union?
On March 31, after a day of activity regarding the strike, I caught a few minutes of CCTA manager Bill Watterson on one of the evening newscasts in Burlington. He acknowledged that the drivers had compromised on the issue of how many part-time drivers could be hired. He went on to say the 13.5 hour scheduling was needed because it would be hard to find enough part-time drivers to fill those positions. I have a couple questions regarding this claim. Isn’t it management’s job to recruit drivers? If it’s hard to find part-time drivers, then why not create some more full-time positions? Of all the excuses CCTA management has made for its positions during these negotiations, this was the most inane.
However, my real anger is not directed at Mr. Watterson. While he is an unsympathetic figure, he is just another overpaid manager (although he might disagree with that by the time this strike is over) following orders and catching flak for the higher-ups. That’s who this piece is really about.
The bus drivers have every right to demand what they are demanding. It is for the safety of the riders and the drivers.
I have no idea who the CCTA Board of Commissioners is answerable to. Nor do most of the people served by the transit system they say they run for the residents of Chittenden County. In the wake of its recent statements, this question of accountability becomes very important.
According to news reports published April 1, this board is considering the use of temporary replacement drivers to staff the CCTA buses. In other words, they are thinking about hiring scabs. The very fact that this is even being considered by the Board of Commissioners proves that whoever they are accountable to has something on their mind besides a quick resolution to the strike. If this was their goal, then they would tell their management team to concede to the drivers’ proposal regarding the 13.5 hour shifts. Instead, they have approved the hiring of expensive lawyers to browbeat the union, pretended they have no power to tell their management team what to do, and have given that team the ability to do what they wish, no matter how petty.
I have walked 11 miles in the past two days to get to and from work. The primary reason for this is management’s intransigence. The bus drivers have every right to demand what they are demanding. It is for the safety of the riders and the drivers. Management’s refusal to bend on this demand proves to me that, no matter what they say otherwise, their first priority is not the people who ride the CCTA buses. If it were, they would have accepted the drivers’ proposal and the strike would be over.
The recent statements from management’s overseers — the CCTA Board of Commissioners — suggesting they may hire scabs makes it clear that the board is not interested in the riders either. The use of “temporary drivers” would certify how little the board and its management team care about the safety of the riders. Not only is there a question of how well trained those drivers would be, there is the question of how safe it would be to ride the buses in the middle of a labor dispute — a dispute that would most likely become angrier if scabs are utilized.
If the board were truly interested in the bus riders like they claim, they would listen to the riders who email them, call them, and spoke out at their emergency meeting on March 31 in Winooski. Those riders told them to accept the drivers’ proposal and get the buses back on the road. They did not suggest the use of scabs or the taking of legal action. That is coming from other powers, powers who seem to think they can bust the drivers’ union.