Get them back to work

0

As the strike by Vineyard Transit Authority full-time bus drivers extends to nearly two full weeks, it’s impressive just how much attention the small but spirited group of drivers has received.

There was the tweet by presidential candidate Bernie Sanders before the strike. There was an audience with presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg during his visit to Martha’s Vineyard Saturday. And there was solidarity from state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, who joined the striking workers on the picket line.

Fernandes, state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, and U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III have all tweeted out support for the striking workers, as well.

The drivers have also received a lot of help from other Island union workers, specifically teachers and Stop & Shop employees. And community support has been there, too, from the folks at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center and other organizations donning purple shirts to bring attention to the cause.

Even some visitors have offered their support, as difficult as the situation makes it for them to get around because they don’t want to cross a picket line.

We can only imagine how this is playing in the administrative offices of the VTA, because they aren’t saying much beyond the prepared statements on their website.

While the VTA has boasted that it was able to offer 100 percent service on the Island’s bus routes on the Fourth of July, there was interruption to other important services. In a brief conversation with an employee at the VTA there, a woman who would only identify herself as “Helen” seemed at her wits’ end when asked about the decision to cancel the Medivan service, which offers rides to off-Island medical appointments for the Island’s elderly population. “Obviously” it’s because of the strike, she told our reporter, before directing him to speak to management.

Meanwhile, a contracted service with the Center for Living was also interrupted briefly by the strike.

These are the services that administrators decided to stop offering because of the strike? Not a good look by the VTA to continue providing as much service to Island summer visitors as possible, while eliminating a service so desperately needed by the Island’s elderly population.

Angela Grant, the VTA’s administrator, criticized Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) for being a “powerful off-Island union with an agenda that has shown little regard for our community and the riders of our transit system.”

That is comical, given that Transit Connection Inc. (TCI), which hires VTA’s drivers, is an off-Island company, and many of the seasonal drivers who have replaced Island residents behind the wheel are here temporarily.

They’re not the folks you’re going to depend on in January when you need to get from Vineyard Haven to Edgartown, because you don’t have a car and can’t afford a taxi.

There are two sides to every negotiation, of course, and we’re not privy to all the talks that have taken place. But the historical record in this labor dispute does not reflect well on TCI and, ultimately, the VTA. It was TCI that made it difficult for the drivers to form a union by fighting them in federal court. Then once the federal court case was resolved in favor of the drivers, TCI was slow to come to the bargaining table. Finally, when a strike was announced, it was TCI that stopped communications with the union and a federal mediator.

It’s become clear in recent days that the VTA advisory board has not been performing its role, in large part because some positions have gone unfilled and because some members are not showing up. It’s time for the Island’s boards of selectmen to make sure their representatives are doing what they were appointed to do. After all, the towns pay a state assessment for the regional transportation.

We hope there is a resolution to this strike soon. And we hope it’s become clear that there is overwhelming public support for these year-round, full-time drivers. It’s time for TCI to stop the posturing and return to the negotiating table with the goal of a fair contract.