ST. ALBANS — St. Albans resident Jack Tremblay, 41, has been taking the bus for six years. It’s cheaper than driving, convenient, and part of his workday routine.
But when the Chittenden County Transportation Authority bus drivers’ strike began two weeks ago over rejected contracts, Tremblay needed an alternative way to his work at Direct Design, Inc. in Burlington, where he is art director. He normally takes the CCTA St. Albans Link bus for $8 a day, a fee, he said in a recent interview, that beats paying for gas, tires, and car maintenance for the 60-mile-a-day round-trip commute.
“It would be significantly more expensive [to drive],” Tremblay said.
To help preserve his budget, Tremblay posted a call for carpooling on Front Porch Forum. Tremblay soon met fellow bus rider, Charlie Brooks, who decided that after the strike went into this week, he, too, needed to find a cheaper commuting option.
“Basically, I had decided I would give the strike a week,” Brooks said in an interview Thursday.
Brooks, 32, is an event coordinator at the University of Vermont for the Vermont Cancer Center. Brooks said that he is on a tight budget, and commuter transit played a role in his decision to move to St. Albans seven years ago. “Part of the reason I moved was because I knew I could get the bus,” he said.
Tremblay and Brooks are among the many local commuters having to adjust to the lack of buses around Burlington. Their carpooling has been working out well, they both said, but they both indicated hopes of the CCTA management and drivers coming to a compromise soon.
The labor strike, which began March 17, is being lead by Teamsters Local No. 597 and is composed of dozens of bus drivers. The strike is over several contract issues, including the length of shifts, part-time positions, camera monitoring on buses, and compensation. Contract negotiations have been ongoing since last year, beginning in April 2013 when negotiation rules were established.
The four remaining issues have been the sticking points to a contract compromise.
CCTA ratified its best offer on March 12, but drivers voted against it 54-0. The strike began, and three days later, the union submitted a proposal to CCTA. After seven hours of negotiation on March 22, the union ultimately rejected CCTA’s compromise contract proposal, extending the strike into its second week.
According to the CCTA press release issued Thursday, however, the CCTA received a “credible” proposal by the union on Wednesday night at the Burlington City Council meeting. Chief Steward Mike Walker said there would be a meeting Friday, according to the Associated Press.
For Tremblay and Brooks, like everyone else, would like to see a compromise reached between CCTA drivers and management.
“I know a lot of the drivers pretty well,” Tremblay said. “I’ve heard them all for the last three to four year’s with their difference with management. They have always been clear that this is about being treated respectfully.”
Tremblay feels like the message is being lost, both because of what he perceives to be CCTA’s emphasis on the salary portion of the contract, as well as the oversimplified “union versus corporation” story being told.
“This is about the drivers and not the Teamsters,” Tremblay said. “To have them be not respected as a business partner with the management is troubling.”
“It’s upsetting to me because my perspective on this,” he added, “is that management is not taking this seriously. It’s discouraging.”
Brooks said that he would like to see compromise reached, but with good working conditions for the drivers. “I hope the working conditions improve,” he said. “It seems that the sticking point is [the monitoring].”
Brooks added that he missed riding the bus, since it was his time each day to work on the couple of novels he’s writing.
“[There are] things that I do that I don’t have time for in the day anymore,” he said in reference to his writing. “Unfortunately, it is what it is.”
Brooks said of the strike, “It’s something that is very disruptive.”