TCI offers VTA drivers, union final contract

Union still wants to continue negotiations.

TCI made its final offer Friday to VTA drivers and the union representing them. — Rich Saltzberg

After three days of negotiations, Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) bus drivers and the union representing them were given a final contract offer from Transit Connection Inc. (TCI).

Negotiations continued a week after drivers met with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) on May 23 to discuss a possible strike ahead of the busy Memorial Day Weekend, but ultimately decided against it. Drivers authorized a strike in April, and have held informational pickets.

On Thursday, when negotiations began, both sides tried to come up with a contract, but talks quickly fell into arguments. TCI president and CEO Ed Pigman presented a wage increase for all drivers, and accused the drivers and ATU of using tactics to stall negotiations.

VTA driver Richard Townes shot back saying TCI has been stalling negotiations for years.

TCI’s final contract included pay increases that start at $19.50 and cap at $27.06 per hour, a health insurance plan, recruitment bonuses, among other offers. Casual bus operators, drivers who work a minimum number of hours per calendar month, are not eligible for benefits or paid leave under TCI’s offer.

Speaking with The Times after the VTA’s negotiators departed, ATU international vice president Bruce Hamilton said the new contract proposal fails to address key union needs.

“The primary thing is the fair assignment of work,” Hamilton said, “which is the biggest thing the drivers here sought — an organized voice on the job. The company just doesn’t know how to treat its employees fairly. We had proposed initially a set of rules that they should operate by, pretty standard in the industry, and they just assure that when a driver comes to work, the driver understands what his [or her] responsibilities are, what you can and can’t do, what his or her hours are going to be. And you know, they just calmly said no, no, no — we maintime the right to direct the workforce however we want to and if we want to violate seniority, that’s fine. And unwritten in that is if we want to work you 80 hours a week then that’s what we’re going to do … which is illegal. We had proposed health and safety language that was just run-of-the-mill stuff … We proposed working together with the company in a health and safety committee that’s common in most workplaces…”

Hamilton said TCI met them on some demands, but felt the most important aspects of negotiations were denied.

“They did come around on a few of the things that we were asking for. One important thing is they had never offered a family plan for any amount of money for insurance. So now they’re offering a family plan that’s, of course, totally unaffordable but at least there’s something there. That’s a start. That is a plus …There were a couple of things that I noted that were improvements.”

Reached by phone after the contract review, Greg Dash, TCI’s outside labor negotiator, said in response to being asked whether or not the contract was a final offer,

“It says right across the top [of the contract] last, best, and final offer.”

Despite TCI calling it their last offer, Hamilton hopes they’ll continue to negotiate.

“They have said no, no, no, for the last year of bargaining. Now all of a sudden there are improvements. We want to continue negotiating. We’ll agree to some of that stuff, and we have other proposals we would like them to consider and we’ll compromise with them on some of the stuff that they’ve offered. For them just to walk away is wrong. So we’re going to propose that they come back to the table and really negotiate in good faith and give us a deal that we can live with,” Hamilton said.

Also reached by phone after reviewing the contract, Pigman said drivers have been hurting for too long and TCI established their offer with that in mind. Aside from some minor tweaking, this offer will be their last.

“We’ve spent nine months talking to the bargaining committee and we didn’t get anywhere at all …The workforce needs to be taken care of, so that’s why we did what we did,” Pigman said. “This is it. We’ve put together everything that there was to provide.”