I ride CCTA buses every day back and forth to work. This is why I support the drivers call for a strike. I started riding CCTA buses when I first moved to Burlington in 1992. The improvements in the service since then are immeasurable. One thing that has not changed, however, is the professionalism, courtesy and commitment to safety exhibited by the bus drivers. I have seen drivers help disabled folks get on the bus, help mothers with babes-in-arms get their children situated, give precise directions to newcomers and tourists, and more.
Recently, CCTA management walked out on negotiations between the drivers and management. These negotiations have been going on since April 2013. When I talk with drivers I am told that the real issue is not the money, but the working conditions and the way they are treated by management. Foremost among these issues is the question of safety. As I remarked earlier, I have always found the CCTA drivers’ attention to safety first-rate. I always assumed that management shared this commitment. However, their proposal to add an additional hour of time between shifts for drivers assigned to split shifts seems to prove my assumption wrong. What this proposal would do is keep drivers on call for 13.5 hours. In other words, a driver who drove school kids to school early in the morning would be expected to still be driving thirteen hours later. Drivers have told me that, when they have raised the issue of how this would affect passenger safety, management dismissed their concerns.
Another issue is one many of us have experienced in our own workplaces. This involves the addition of part-time workers to the staff in order to avoid providing benefits to the workers. This ploy by management is just wrong. It ignores the fact that the people who do most of the work in CCTA-the drivers—are real people with families, mortgages, rents and other bills. Like management, which usually only has full-timers with benefits, the drivers can perform their work better if they have a full-time job with benefits. Otherwise, their lives take on added stress as they struggle to make ends meet.
The final element of the contract where there are major disagreements is the way CCTA management treats it drivers. For those who do not ride public transit, nowadays most buses have surveillance cameras on them. Although the cameras are there to record instances of passenger disturbances in case a crime occurs on the bus, CCTA management seems to use their cameras to spy on the drivers. According to drivers, management spends a fair amount of time reviewing surveillance tapes looking for any driver infractions. If any are found, drivers are called in and threatened with suspension or firing. The contract proposed by CCTA management would prevent any suspended or fired driver from appealing any such disciplinary action. Besides creating an abusive work environment, this type of managerial behavior is just plain wrong, especially if the worker is not allowed any type of appeal.
After unanimously rejecting the contract offered by management on March 12, 2014 (after driving through the worst March snowstorm in Vermont since 1969), the CCTA drivers will go on strike. I will not cross their picket lines. There is one right way to prevent a strike. That is for CCTA management to get off its managerial high horse, and sign the contract as proposed by the drivers. Chittenden County has taken the CCTA bus drivers for granted long enough. If there is a strike we will discover just how important they really are.