Three VTA drivers confronted the chair of the Vineyard Transit Authority advisory board at Oak Bluffs Town Hall Tuesday, videotaping the encounter as they asked her strike-related questions.
The VTA full-time bus drivers have been on strike for 13 days seeking better wages, health insurance, and fair treatment, with no end in sight to the labor dispute with Transit Connection Inc. (TCI). In recent days, the role of the advisory board, which has representatives from each of the Island’s six towns, has been questioned.
Drivers John Thurber, James Tilton, and Jason Chalifoux went into town hall, one of them taping on a smartphone, to ask Alice Butler, executive assistant to town manager Robert Whritenour and the VTA advisory board chair, if she intended to call a meeting of the board.
“Not to my knowledge,” Butler says on the videotape. “We will call a meeting when there is something to meet about.”
“Are you saying there’s nothing to meet about?” one of the drivers asks.
Another points out the Medivan service hasn’t been running. “That’s not an issue?” he asks.
“We’re not meeting about it,” Butler says.
Some of the tape is hard to decipher, because other voices in the office drowned out the back and forth. About 1:10 into the brief recording, Butler says, “Are you filming me without my permission?”
“Might be,” the driver says.
“I’ll ask you to turn it off,” Butler says.
The tape keeps rolling while a driver says, “We understand you’re taking direction from Angie,” referring to Angela Grant, the VTA administrator.
“Are you continuing to film me?” Butler asks again, and another driver takes the phone and shuts it off.
Reached Wednesday morning, Butler said she’s not upset that the drivers questioned her, but she didn’t want it to be on tape: “I know they have a role to play. I think the videotaping was unfair. I believe they needed my permission to do it, and I wouldn’t have given it.”
Butler said the advisory board isn’t part of the negotiations. “That’s between the union and TCI,” she said. “It doesn’t mean we’re not sympathetic, of course, we are. I don’t think taking a side would be the right thing to do.”
Asked about the board, she said a meeting was held about two weeks ago. The board meets every four to five weeks, she said, although at other boards of selectmen this week the number of times the advisory board meets and the lack of some representatives on the board was called into question.
Asked about the decision by administrators to cancel the Medivan service, Butler said that’s not an issue for the board. “Certainly, you think people going to medical appointments should have service, but people who come here to visit and people who live here and rely on the bus should be considered as well,” she said.
As for when a meeting would be scheduled, Butler said, “It’s usually done in consultation with [Grant].”