Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Potential Drivers' Strike Looms as Citizens Address City Council

More than a dozen labor organizers and citizens gathered in Burlington's City Hall on Monday night to express their support for the ongoing labor clash between the Queen City's bus drivers and CCTA management. Following a marathon 20 hour negotiating session with the Chittenden based bus company over the weekend, the emerging bus driver's union in Burlington appears to be a hair's breadth away from a strike over unsafe working conditions and what has been described in recent weeks as predatory behaviour on the part of CCTA managers.

Drivers had prepared to strike for a fair contract on Monday, but a last minute round of negotiating between the Teamsters and CCTA management appears to have only postponed what appears to inevitable. Set to be voted on by union members on Wednesday, the current management offering satisfies few key demands and preserves a draconian system of gruelling 13 hour split shifts that often lead to extraordinary driver fatigue. Furthermore, drivers' overall hours are being cut as CCTA follow the nationwide corporate trend of depending more heavily on part-time rather than full-time labor, primarily to avoid paying the benefits earned by full-time employees.

Speaking on behalf of more than 500 students at Burlington High School, a group of nine students read a compelling statement of support for the drivers that shuttle them to school each day. “We call on CCTA management and CCTA commissioners to meet the very reasonable and easy to accommodate demands of the drivers. It is irresponsible for the CCTA Management to provoke a drivers' strike that would make it difficult or impossible for many students to get to school” they said. Choosing to speak as a group before the assembled Councillors, the students also commended the Burlington School Board for choosing not to hire replacement “scab” drivers and urged the Council to follow such an example:

“[t]he City Council and the Mayor must do their part by supporting the workers of Burlington. These are our neighbors. They support our economy, our schools and our students. They deserve better. As the city government that has the most influence over the CCTA, the City Council and the Mayor should direct CCTA management and CCTA commissioners to give drivers a fair contract.”

Burlington High School students address City Council on Monday evening

Also speaking was Ashley Smith, the ever-vocal organizer with the International Socialist Organization, who emphatically described the working conditions for bus drivers as a scandal and urged the City Council to launch an investigation into CCTA management; setting the mould for other remarks made by the recently formed Bus Drivers Solidarity Committee.

Another volunteer with the BDCS, Jim Ramey spoke to the Councillors about the unfolding management crisis. “Forcing the drivers to drive under the conditions that they now labor under is unsafe for everyone. The overall incompetence of CCTA's management has made every city bus a potential catastrophe that can be avoided by meeting the bus drivers needs” said Ramey. “The Burlington City Council should support the community it represents and the bus drivers by demanding a fair contract from CCTA and recommend a thorough audit of management practices at CCTA, starting with Tim Bradshaw, to insure that intimidation and Gilded age labor practices end for good in this city and county.”

As citizens and organizers filed out of Contois Auditorium in a mass exodus the marked the end of the March 10th Public Forum, a certain sense of resignation hung in the air. Despite the testimony before the elected leaders of the Queen City, despite the gathering of 500 student signatures, and despite the maddeningly long hours of exhaustive negotiation; it seemed that a decision to strike was all but inevitable.

The remaining question, perhaps too obvious to ask, is “What's going to happen next?” As the Wednesday up-down vote draws closer and closer to a union left with few options, the people of Burlington are preparing to support the men and women that put them on the move each morning. Their vote, more closely resembling a 19th century labor struggle, is ultimately about the respect and dignity once considered a trademark of this progressive city. Depending on Wednesday's decision, the wheels on the bus may simply refuse to go round and round for much longer.

For more work by Dylan Kelley visit his website, like his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter via @LivefromGround.

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