VTA bus drivers ask West Tisbury for support

Selectmen agree to send letter urging more negotiations.

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West Tisbury selectmen agreed to send a letter to VTA administrator Angela Grant to urge negotiations.

West Tisbury selectmen voted to send a letter to Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) administrator Angela Grant asking her to continue the ongoing union negotiations between the union representing VTA bus drivers and Transit Connection Inc. (TCI), the VTA’s subcontractor.

Last month, state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, and state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, sent a letter to Grant asking her to take “critical steps” toward resuming union negotiations in good faith after VTA drivers authorized a strike.

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 the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) for negotiating help as they seek health and safety improvements and wage increases, among other requests.

Tensions have continued to grow as both sides feel the other is making unrealistic proposals.

VTA bus drivers John Christensen and Richard Townes drafted a letter for selectmen, and asked them to sign it, but selectman Skip Manter said the town needed to speak with John Alley, the town’s representative on the VTA board, first.

“I support the transit authority and I support the bus drivers,” Manter said. “But what I’d rather do is have our representative come in here and address him.”

Selectman Cynthia Mitchell recommended the drafted letter be wordsmithed before selectmen signed it to show support, but remain neutral until the town had heard from both sides.

In other business, selectmen discussed the voters’ decision to refer the Housing Bank article to committee at annual town meeting on Tuesday.

“People, I think, really understood that the town wants to have a Housing Bank, by the initial vote, but that there are issues with it,” Mitchell said. “I hope that over the course of the next year, we can come up with a framework that works for all six towns.”

Manter agreed. “I’m really optimistic it will, because affordable housing is such a concern,” he said.

Selectmen then agreed to set up a public meeting in the future to discuss how a Housing Bank should look in the future.

Selectmen also approved a one-day beer and wine license for Blooming Bids for Kids. The event, hosted by Big Brothers Big Sisters, supports at-risk youth on the Island, and will be held on June 28 from 5 pm to 7 pm at the Field Gallery.