Union vote up in the air


BENNINGTON -- The results of a union vote Wednesday at Green Mountain Express were not as decisive as some had hoped. Of the 22 drivers eligible to vote, 11 voted to join the union while 10 voted not to.

Tony St. Hilaire, business agent for Teamsters Local 597, the Vermont chapter of the Teamsters Union, said he challenged one ballot on the grounds that the person who cast it does not count as a driver and is primarily a receptionist.

St. Hilaire said if that vote is counted and goes against the union, the vote will end in a tie, which means the bus drivers will not unionize.

Green Mountain Community Network is a private non-profit that runs Green Mountain Express. It has seven days to file a response to the union's challenge with the Department of Labor, which will then determine if the vote is to be counted or not.

William Kelly, trustee organizer for Teamsters Local 597, said that according to the bus company, the receptionist drives a bus four hours a week and is thus allowed to vote.

He said the union will now check with the Department of Labor to determine what standards need to be met in order to qualify as a driver. The union will also seek to determine how many weeks the employee in question has been driving. How long the Department of Labor has to review the matter remains unknown.

Donna Baker, executive director of Green Mountain Community Network, said the company will support its drivers, but did not wish to speak in-depth about the subject. She said the matter will go before the Department of Labor and more information will be gained in the meantime.

St. Hilaire said earlier this month that the union felt confident most of the divers at Green Mountain Express wanted to unionize. The drivers had approached the Teamsters Union during the Chittenden County Transit Authority strike in Burlington earlier this year.

According to Kelly and a bus driver who spoke to the Banner under the condition of anonymity, drivers feel disrespected by management and have concerns about having to drive buses with defective equipment that does not get fixed.

The company does not put unsafe buses on the road and has an "open door" policy between management and drivers, said Baker.

St. Hilaire said if all who filled out union cards voted to join, the company would likely unionize. He said Green Mountain Community Network then argued for two administrative workers to be allowed to vote, saying they drove a bus often enough to be considered eligible.

Complicating matters further is an educational consultant the bus company hired to meet with drivers. Sharyn Brush, president of the bus company's board of directors, said the board wanted drivers to have all the information available on unions, and that the board would support whatever decision the drivers made.

The consulting company hired was Labor Relations Institute Inc., of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, which describes itself on its website as a, "consulting firm dedicated to maintaining the union free work place."

St. Hilaire has said the consultant is a "union buster," and state law does not allow public funds to be spent on such things.

Baker and Brush have said money for the consultant came from a private donation made to the company. St. Hilaire said he has filed a complaint with the Department of Labor asking the bus company to prove no public funds were used in that manner.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.


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