Striking Vt. bus drivers say walkout to continue
BURLINGTON -- Bus drivers and the management of the Chittenden County Transportation Agency continued to spar over details of a new contract Monday as the bus strike affecting Vermont’s largest county continued into its second week.
Union leaders Rob Slingerland and Mike Walker said CCTA told the union after a Saturday negotiating session that their demands could not be met, prompting the drivers to leave since they felt they were wasting their time.
The drivers, speaking at a Monday news conference in downtown Burlington near the company’s main bus stop, said they aren’t concerned with money.
"We’re here for a respectable and livable contract, and that’s all we demand," Slingerland said.
CCTA said the Saturday negotiation session ended when union representatives walked out.
The strike of about 70 drivers began March 17. The Chittenden County bus routes carried 10,000 passengers a day, including students and workers.
CCTA General Manager Bill Watterson said there are four main issues keeping the two parties from reaching an agreement -- wages, disciplinary action from anonymous tips, part-time drivers and split-shifts.
Slingerland and Walker said CCTA did not present the union with a complete contract during the Saturday session.
But CCTA spokeswoman Meredith Birkett said Monday the transportation authority did provide a proposal, omitting articles that already had been agreed upon.
The proposal included some compromises to union positions, but demands that the company felt would threaten safety weren’t included, CCTA said in a news release.
Union leaders said a main point of contention is how discipline would be handled when accusations come from an anonymous tip system that drivers say will be abused by management. Anonymous complaints cannot be stand-alone evidence for discipline, but CCTA said throwing out the system entirely would be a "complete abdication" of responsibility to safety.
Slingerland said CCTA was trying to weaken the union’s resolve.
"The fact that the CCTA stonewalls negotiations with loopholes and nitpicking every little thing we propose is just another tactic to try and wear us down," Slingerland said at the news conference. "And wear us down they will not."
The transportation authority said in a weekend statement that it’s disappointed an agreement was not reached.
No upcoming meeting with CCTA has been scheduled yet, according to bus union leaders.
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