State legislators support VTA drivers’ union

Tensions continue to grow as VTA drivers feel they are at the end of their rope.

VTA bus drivers picketing for fair treatment at a protest in August. In April, the drivers authorized a strike and have said they plan to hit the picket lines on Friday. — Gabrielle Mannino

State legislators have asked the Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) administration to take “critical steps” to resume negotiations after the union representing VTA bus drivers voted to authorize a strike.

State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, and state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro sent a letter to VTA administrator Angela Grant on April 17 expressing their concern over the lack of progress in the collective bargaining between the VTA’s subcontractor, Transit Connection, Inc (TCI) and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU).

“It is becoming increasingly clear that your out-of-state subcontractor, TCI is intentionally delaying negotiations. The busy summer season is coming and it’s time to make sure both parties come to the table and negotiate a contract in good faith,” the letter reads.

Grant did not respond to repeated messages by phone and email. TCI president and CEO Ed Pigman and manager Darren Morris also did not respond to repeated messages.

In April 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta ruled that TCI had engaged in unfair labor practices when it refused to bargain with the union, and ordered TCI to negotiate with the union. The 11th Circuit had jurisdiction over the case because TCI also conducts business in Florida. In August, VTA bus drivers reached out to ATU for negotiating help as they seek health and safety improvements, wage increase, among other requests.

Tensions have continued to grow as both sides feel the other is giving unrealistic offers.

The letter also refers to Greg Dash, an outside labor negotiation consultant who is assisting TCI, as saying: “It takes some understanding on both sides. In the end there’s a deal in there somewhere.”

Fernandes and Cyr feel Dash has not stuck to that sentiment.

“Unfortunately with the lack of progress on contract talks, it appears that Mr. Dash’s words are ringing hollow a year later,” the letter reads. “The towns and larger community on Martha’s Vineyard deserve a bus system that is safe and reliable, and the bus drivers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect by the VTA and its subcontractors.”

In an email, VTA bus driver Richard Townes said there is a lack of VTA advisory board oversight and Island selectmen are unaware of the issues.

“The public isn’t aware of what the delaying is costing the taxpayers. Tens of thousands of dollars for TCI to drag this out. We have lost drivers because of what’s going on and will lose more if this continues much longer. The drivers are running out of options,” Townes said.

Between January 2015 and June 2018, the VTA spent $80,132 on legal fees in court cases involving TCI, The National Labor Relations Board, and ATU.

A date has not been set for continued negotiation talks.