BENNINGTON -- Defective equipment and being treated poorly are some of the complaints bus drivers at Green Mountain Express have against their managers. Meanwhile those managers say they do not put unsafe buses on the roads and have an "open door policy" for employees who have concerns.
Employees of Green Mountain Express will vote Wednesday on whether to join the Teamsters Union. According to William Kelly, trustee organizer for Teamsters Local 597, 23 people at Green Mountain Express are eligible to vote. For the employees to unionize, a majority have to be in favor of it.
Kelly said the union is confident it has enough support for the company to join.
A bus driver who spoke to the Banner under the condition of anonymity thinks so, too. "My personal feeling is, if we can get a union, we'll be looking at possibly being able to improve our working conditions, we should be able to improve our scheduling situation which has been a major sore point and has been seriously affecting my home life," he said.
The driver said the buses often have numerous mechanical issues that go unfixed for lengthy periods despite being reported.
"If there's something wrong with it, then we shouldn't be taking out on the road, and we're like, ‘Well, you know, we'd rather not,' and they're like, ‘Well, that's all we got so drive it or go home.' If I go home, I don't get paid for the day," he said.
He said if there were to be an accident and the bus had some sort of mechanical issue, the drivers are afraid they will be held liable.
"Now, I'm out there, I have people's lives in my hands, I take this seriously," he said.
Green Mountain Express is run by Green Mountain Community Network, a private non-profit.
"We do not put unsafe vehicles on the road," said Donna Baker, executive director of Green Mountain Community Network. Doing so would not be in the best interest of passengers, drivers, or the bus company.
Sharyn Brush, president of the bus company's Board of Trustees, said she sees repair bills for the buses being processed routinely. She said the board has not been made aware that drivers have safety concerns.
"I can't believe we'd send them out in a bus that wasn't safe," Brush said.
Likewise, Brush has not heard about employees feeling like they are not respected by management.
Kelly, who was in the municipal parking lot next to the Green Mountain Express station on Pleasant Street Thursday to show support for the drivers, said they had been feeling disrespected and as though they were being treated as "second class."
"I maintain an open door policy, and if there are issues we try to fix it," said Baker.
She said once employees filed a petition to unionize, that enacted a set of rules that limit what kinds of discussions can be had between management and employees. She said there had been no talks about problems before the petition.
The week of May 5, an educational consultant, hired by the bus company, arrived to educate employees on joining a union. Baker and Brush confirmed Thursday that it was a person from Labor Relations Institute Inc.
Kelly said that consultant was back, which is part of the reason he was in Bennington and why union supporters will be at the Four Corners in Bennington Friday waving at cars and encouraging them to honk to support the bus drivers.
According to its website, the Labor Relations Institute was founded in 1978 and is a "consulting firm dedicated to maintaining the union-free work place." It is based in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.
Brush said the consultant is to make sure drivers have enough information to make a decision, and the board will respect whatever decision they make.
Kelly said that initially the union thought only 21 people would be voting, but management at Green Mountain Express pointed out that two administrative staff members drive part time, and are thus eligible to vote. If the drivers do join the union, they will be able to negotiate pay as well as working conditions.
He said drivers in the company approached the Teamsters Union earlier this year when union drivers working for the Chittenden County Transit Authority went on strike.
"I think they are pretty well taken care of," said Brush. "They may see it differently."
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.