Employees of Bennington bus company seek to join union

Editor’s note: This article is by Keith Whitcomb Jr. of the Bennington Banner, in which it was first published May 10, 2014.

BENNINGTON — Employees of the Green Mountain Express may soon become part of the Teamsters Union.

A vote among employees is scheduled for May 28, according to Tony St. Hilaire, business agent for Teamsters Local 597, the Vermont charter of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. He said a number of employees contacted the union, have filled out union cards, and submitted an application to join. If a majority vote in favor of that, the employees will have union representation.

“Over half signed cards,” he said. “If they all vote ‘yes’ it will be over 51 percent, we’ll have enough to win the vote.”

St. Hilaire said it was recently brought to his attention that Green Mountain Community Network Inc., the private, non-profit company that runs Green Mountain Express, hired a “union buster” to convince employees not to join. St. Hilaire said this is problematic because the bus company accepts funding from the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans), and according to Title 2,1 Chapter Five, Section 496a. “An employer that is the recipient of a grant of State funds in a single grant of more than $1,000 shall certify to the state that none of the funds will be used to interfere with or restrain the exercise of an employee’s rights with respect to unionization and upon request shall provide records to the Secretary of Administration which attests to such certification.”

He said he plans to file such a request and have Green Mountain Community Network prove that funding for the “union buster” was not paid for with grant money, or from a pool containing grant money, which he claimed would also be problematic.

“This is being paid for by private funds,” said Donna Baker, executive director of Green Mountain Community Network. She said the money was used to hire an “educational consultant” not a “union buster.” She said the bus company, like other non-profits, sometimes receives gifts, in this case a bequeathment from an estate, that was unrestricted, meaning the company can use it as it sees fit.

She said a consultant was hired to speak with employees earlier in the week in small groups and individually as needed to educate them on what being in a union would entail. Baker said she expects the consultant will return in the future. Baker would not say who the consultant is, what firm they work for, or how much was spent on their services.

“We don’t really have a take on what’s going on, we just want to make sure our employees are well-informed on all the facts regarding unions,” said Sharyn Brush, president of Green Mountain Community Network’s Board of Trustees.

She said the board learned employees were thinking about unionizing on April 25. At its regular monthly meeting, the board voted to hire the consultant. Brush also declined to name the consultant or say how much was spent for the service.

“We are not using state or grant funds to pay for this,” Brush said.

She said the board does not feel it is standing in the way of the bus employees unionizing, but helping to educate them. “It’s their decision to make and we’ll honor whatever option they choose,” Brush said.

St. Hilaire said it was the employees who contacted the Teamsters Union about joining, saying they were not happy with the treatment they had been receiving. St. Hilaire would not go into specifics about said treatment.

He said bus drivers and mechanics can join the union, but how many that entails exactly has to be verified before the vote.

According to Baker, Green Mountain Community Network employs 20 drivers, a mix of part- and full-time, one maintenance person, three office staff who drive occasionally, and three people in management positions.

The Teamsters Union represents 17 companies in Vermont, according to St. Hilaire, and union disputes are uncommon.

VTDigger reported earlier this year on the dispute between the Teamsters Union and the Chittenden County Transit Authority which led to bus drivers in Burlington going on strike. St. Hilaire said that matter had been “brewing for years” and since it resolved there have been no issues.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.

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