Updated 7:15 pm
Striking Vineyard Transit Authority bus drivers moved their picket line to Five Corners Wednesday morning, prompting an urgent scanner call from a Tisbury traffic officer saying the picketers were “causing a scene.”
Drivers and other picketers chanted as VTA buses passed through Five Corners, “Shame! Shame! Shame!”
As a cruiser arrived at the scene, the picketers voluntarily moved back to the Vineyard Haven terminal. “First Amendment rights,” Richard Townes, one of the drivers, told The Times in response to what the traffic officer said over the scanner. “We can stand out here. We weren’t blocking traffic. We weren’t blocking the sidewalks. It’s our First Amendment right.”
The traffic officer, who declined to give her name and identified herself as “Tango 41”, told The Times, “I just hope it ends tonight. It’s very distracting at Five Corners and very dangerous.”
While they were at Five Corners, the striking workers moved back on the sidewalk to let tourists pass by. “Don’t block the sidewalk,” one of them shouted.
They were led in chants of: “Take an Uber or a cab, don’t ride with a scab!” “What’s disgusting? Union-busting!” “What’s outrageous? These low wages.”
The striking workers were joined by Hebrew Center of MV Rabbi Caryn Broitman and others wearing purple shirts calling for a VTA boycott.
“This is the kind of support we’ve been getting all along,” Townes said. “I have yet to meet one person say they’re not for this. ‘You guys have to keep this up.’ The food pantry has said anybody who is on strike come up and get all the food you want for your families. Stop & Shop has helped out. The teachers union has teachers out here. We have the president of the Island Democrats here and she’s marching with us. I can’t think of anybody else we can ask.”
State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, showed up Wednesday morning to show his support and bought several pizzas for all the protesters.
Fernandes said the state puts a large portion of funding into transit authorities.
After sending letters to VTA board members and VTA administrator Angela Grant, Fernandes said the next step will be reaching out to chairs of transportation committees to see how they can apply pressure.
“This is a profoundly unaffordable place to live and in our country right now we’re at a time of unprecedented income inequality and you see that on the Vineyard more than most other places in the country,” Fernandes said. “Unions helped build our middle class and usher in an era of prosperity.”
Unions, Fernandes said, are vital.
“To help rebuild a society that is sustainable in terms of wages and benefits to allow people to live in the place they grew up in and love,” he said.
Drivers are pushing for better wages, health care, and working conditions. The VTA has said in public statements that meeting the contract demands would require a reduction in bus service on the Island.
“We’re going to be out here until we get a contract. We understand it’s putting a little hurt on the community,” Townes said. “The passengers understand. They’re wearing shirts with us. TCI is not cooperating at all. We sat upstairs and met for 7 hours with the mediator the other day and we haven’t heard back from them yet.”
All VTA bus routes will be running July 4 except route 12 according to Grant. She expects route 12, the Chilmark in-route and sunset bus, to be restored by Friday.
George Brennan, Amanda Cronin and Brian Dowd contributed to this report.
Updated to add July 4 bus schedules. — Ed.