Ron Jacobs: CCTA management should meet drivers’ demand, not hire scabs

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.

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  • Don Mac Donald

    This strike could and should have been settled long ago. Of course it is Union busting. When pressed, City Council scheduled a meeting. Ooops, can’t count. 23 or 24 hrs. Insult #1, Strike 1. A week later, finally got around to it.
    5Pm time. Oh, BT is first, the executive session, clear hall, Insult#2 Strike #2. The peasant masses may take their seats now, but be quite and behave. Oh, before we start we need a 15 minute recess! Insult #3 Strike 3 you’re out! Union busting is wrong, that’s that. After riveting testamony with no rebuttal from management, I thought that city council understood. Wrong! Another week go by and we hear talk of thugs being brought in to break things up. ENOUGH.
    March town meeting comes up. Ever time we elect a Republicrat since 1981 (2), we beg the communists to come and pick up the mess.
    Looks like next March will be no exception, and the communists wil be in for another 20 years, and Burlington will prosper.

  • I guess the silver lining here is the spectacle of adults using the term “scabs” in earnest.

    Should be an entertaining week.

  • Paul Richards

    You don’t get it Ron. The union want’s to regulate how many part time drivers they can hire. It’s all about the squeeze play to create a monopoly for the drivers so they can suck up all of the overtime pay. Scabs? No worse than the thugs that are protected by law to act as such. Call them scabs if you want but they would be more accurately described as good Americans looking for a job which is more than I can say about the thugs.

    • Harry Sherman

      Oooh, you’re a scary one, Paul

  • ron jacobs

    I do get it. The drivers wants to be involved in their job security. Management would like to have total control of the situation, hoping that eventually they can replace every full time driver with part timers who don’t have the same commitment to the job because they are underpaid and have no benefits. You don’t get it. Workers deserve to have some semblance of job security. I doubt very much that you would want your job security (if you work) to be at the whim of a management team that seems to be paid to threaten that security. Union members are not thugs. They are working Americans who want to see every working American have a good job with good pay and security so other workers wouldn’t feel like they had to scab.

    • Jamie Carter

      Ron, maybe you could answer this…

      The union agreed to a 13.5 hour split shift previously in these negotiations, then revoked that agreement and deemed it a safety issue.

      So was it safe then? Or were the drivers willingly putting their riders in an unsafe environment?

      I for one am sick of hearing about this “unsafe” environment that the drivers complain about… when it’s convient for them.

      • Pat McGarry

        Driving a CCTA bus requires a commercial driver’s license. If the split shift were truly dangerous, the DOT would intervene.

  • Charlotte Norris-Brown

    Thanks for an excellent article Ron! You’ve laid out the issues so clearly, without the usual confusion and misrepresentation we’ve come to expect from the media on this issue. Responsibility for the length of the strike is 100% management’s. I’ve been wondering when someone was going to ask why they cannot come to agreement on the very reasonable requirements the union has laid out. The only reasons I can think of for their actions of the past 10 months are: 1. to continue to punish drivers for anything at all at their whim; 2. to use the prolonged spreads to punish drivers when they can’t find any reason to pull them in for discipline; 3. to bust the union; and now 4. to punish drivers for their uppityness in going on strike by forcing them to stay on strike until their medical benefits expire and they run out of strike funds. None of this has anything to do with our public servants (the managers) discharging their duty to the community. In fact, they are wasting thousands of taxpayer dollars on lawyers and mediators instead of simply coming to an agreement on some very simple issues. And why on earth does the board of CCTA stand for this??!? It can only be, as you say, that they are trying to bust this union.

    • Michelle Salvador

      Well put Charlotte! Thank you to Ron for finally giving accurate coverage of this strike.

  • Paul Lorenzini

    This is what happens when we lead people to dependency on government services. They become entitled to transportation that other people pay for and don’t those drivers know it. How much real skill does it take to drive a damn bus? I am sorry drivers, but I could drive a damn bus tomorrow, and if they wanted to pay me 70k per year to do it I would feel like I was ripping off taxpayers, and that is why I wouldn’t. $30 to 40k should be considered good pay for the skill level. Government subsidized job pay is quite inflated, but when the people that feel entitled show up on an Acorn bus and shout, politicians cave.

    • Steve Thompson

      The base pay for CCTA drivers is about $42,000 per year. Drivers making upwards of 70k put in an absurd amount of time into the job. Nobody is ripping off the taxpayers or getting paid to do nothing. If you’re going to put in 60-70 hours per week driving a bus, flawlessly, might I add, then damn right you better get 70k. And sorry to break it to, but you could not drive a bus flawlessly tomorrow. If you as much as touch a snowbank or go through a yellow light, that counts as an accident. Sure, you could do if for an hour. But for 60-70 hours a week, year round, without a single accident? I don’t think so.

      • Glenn Thompson

        Steve Thompson,

        This is not an issue I’ve followed closely and I don’t take a position on it. You mentioned some drivers putting in 60-70 hours per week. Correct me if I’m wrong, doesn’t the union oppose hiring part timers to relieve those 60-70 hour work weeks? From my perspective, bus drivers putting in those long hours becomes a safety issue!

    • Ron Jacobs

      Your argument is uniformed and not based in reality. The private sector has shown over and over again it can not provide public transit. Why? Because the profit motive renders such an endeavor impossible. I have a feeling you couldn’t drive a damn bus forty hours a week and do it well. On a side note, how much damn skill does it take to rip off the taxpayers and build weapons, scam homebuyers, and prevent people from getting affordable healthcare?

      • Paul Lorenzini

        You are right Ron, I apologize to the drivers, I did not realize they were putting in so many overtime hours to earn their pay. Sorry bus drivers, I know you are good at what you do. I am just extremely concerned about this thing called the NATIONAL DEBT. It stands at $17,000,000,000,000, thats 17 TRILLION DOLLARS!!! That’s a big debt and a few bus drivers aren’t the culprit. Sorry guys.

  • Paul Lorenzini

    inflation sucks, when I was in school I thought I could retire nice if I made 30k. Now it takes 130k. That is what a productive broker makes in a month. Sick world.

  • Michael Colby

    Thanks, Ron, for this good dose of truth. It’s been most unsettling to read the Vermont media’s mostly insipid coverage of this important labor struggle.

  • Harry Sherman

    Thanks for a well though-out article, Ron!

  • Peter Liston

    We should all stand with the hard working drivers.

    A 13.5 hour driving shift is not safe for anyone.

    Yes, it takes skill and dedication to drive these busses on busy city streets. These workers deserve a great deal of respect.

  • Bill Olenick

    Fire the who lot of them and hire those that will not hold the public hostage, by freezing publicly funded infrastructure, that benefits the general public, and is necessary for many low income people, and the elderly ,to get the necessities of life, to force their position.
    These people who do this are not worthy 0f the public’s trust.
    End of problem…

  • sandra bettis

    ron, you nailed it. if people don’t support the unions, they don’t support the workers and, as we can see from the decline of the unions in this country, there has also been a sharp decline in workers’ rights. management won’t do the right thing on their own any more than wall st will.

    • Paul Richards

      Why does it always come down to “rights”? Everyone in this country thinks they have unending rights. If someone does not get what they think they are rightfully entitled to then they scream foul and someone, somewhere agrees with them and says they are not being supported. “if people don’t support the unions they don’t support the workers”. Really? Is this really how it is? That’s a bunch of BS. I doubt you would find anyone who rides these buses who does not appreciate and “support” what the drivers do. Does that have to mean that they support their efforts to do anything they want as they hold a gun to managements head and the heads of all of the riders and taxpayers? We have strict labor laws in this country. Some of them were the result of the labor union movement and provide great protections to all. What the current day unions are all about is manipulating management and the tax payers (in the case of public sector unions) by forcing them to give them everything they want. They will cut of their noses to spite their faces as long as they get what they think they have a “right” to. They cannot compete in a global economy because they price themselves out of the market. They are more concerned about what “work rules” they can get in place, how early they can retire and what benefits they can get inn place than they are about long term viability of the company. As usual, all management is looked at as the scum of the earth and the tax payers are looked at as a never ending cash cow. What “rights” do the tax payers have? Why am I forced to pay for my neighbors pension fund while I can afford one for myself? Wake up people, the goose is about out of golden eggs.

  • Joyce Travers

    If there is a question of how safe it would be to ride a bus during a labor dispute then I would say that the union is not all that concerned with the safety of the riders either. Both sides are acting like spoiled children and need to grow up.
    And neither side can truthfully claim that what they are doing is in the best interest of anyone but themselves.

  • Tony Redington

    Excellent Ron–yes it is all about workers/drivers being kept from full-time (40 hour) weeks. They get first dibs each day over temps so they can get the minimum hours for full time each week to qualify for benefits (no pension, incidentally). Management does want to simply do away with full timers rights to (i.e. drivers who work 40 or more hours roughly) to split up the runs so part timers substitute. This reduces costs, increases management control and leaves workers literally out in the cold.

    Also, note the crazy Commissioners comprised of two from Burlington, one each from nearby towns and cities (7) and one each chosen by regional planning agencies to represent Lamoille, Washington and Gand Isle Counties. This is a rurally dominated group clearly trying to manage major population centers. The Commission should be revised to one person one vote representation (RPCs are even worse!), and at least one union member should have full voting status (the German approach which makes a mockery of our economy where capitalists are kings instead of partners).

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