Union confronts VTA advisory board chair

Videotaped back and forth is the latest flare-up in ongoing bus driver strike.

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VTA drivers confront VTA advisory board chair Alice Butler at Oak Bluffs town hall on Wednesday. — Courtesy Richard Townes

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].”

8 COMMENTS

  1. This should prove to everyone out there that the drivers are not the ethical side to support during this strike. Not only could this be considered entrapment, but once she told the driver to stop recording her and he did not, that is illegal. I supported the stop and shop strike fully, because they were having their contract renegotiated and some of their benefits taken away. This strike seems to this reader to be a result of the drivers seeing the success of the stop and shop strike, and saying F*#* it lets do it do. Their requests honestly seem unreasonable, especially with a near 30 dollar maximum wage. As someone who usually sides with whoever is going against the system, in most cases I would support the strike, but based off what I have heard, read, and especially this crude attempt at entrapment, I can not side with the drivers on this matter. I hope that they come to their senses, stop blaming the organization and it’s leaders for their own choices, and either get back to work, or quit and find something that suits their high standards.

    • The offer is for $27 after 10 years into the contract. The going rate for other bus drivers on the island is $30 an hour for the school system and even they have a hard time recruiting drivers at that wage which includes benefits far superior to the VTA . CDL drivers are in high demand across the country. Wal mart starts them at $89k with benefits at day one. The VTA administrator is incompetent at obtaining funding for drivers wages and needs to be replaced.

      • First off, the amount is 29.06 after 10 years, which is a fair wage, especially since the examples of bus drivers being paid higher come from Walmart and the school system. Walmart’s income is astronomically higher than the vta’s is, so of course they can pay their drivers more. Also, the school system drivers are paid for by taxpayers, and have a higher operating budget than the vta does. Also, I saw the islanders talk post where the driver found out that what he did was not illegal, so at the time that the drivers did that, they weren’t aware of the fact that it was not technique-ally illegal. However, approaching the woman in a place without a meeting set, and ambushing her trying to get her to slip up on video doesn’t really seem like the drivers are striking from a moral high ground.

    • You couldn’t be more wrong about this. The drivers have battling with TCI to unionize for 5 years. This is about union busting and a VTA Board that has abdicated its responsibility of oversight. How is it entrapment to ask the Chair questions? And it is not illegal to videotape someone particularly a public official and employee. They dont need her permission. This woman is incompetent, has no idea what her duties as Chair of the VTA are and should resign immediately. Why on earth is there even a Board if they stand on the sidelines and allow Angela Grant to make all their decisions? This is going to come back and bite them hard, and deservedly so.

  2. So an administrative assistant to a town manager is also elevated to be the chair of the VTA advisory council? What on earth are her qualifications to chair that council — that she works for the OB town manager? Ludicrous.

  3. If you do not wish to be recorded in the commission of your public duties, perhaps you should resign and gain employment outside the public sector. Filming in public areas where people are lawfully allowed to be is legal.

    • “I think the videotaping was unfair. I believe they needed my permission to do it, and I wouldn’t have given it.”

      Case 1:16-cv-11362-PBS Document 159 Filed 12/10/18 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS : On the core constitutional issue, the Court holds that secret audio recording of government officials, including law enforcement officials, performing their duties in public is protected by the First Amendment…(Page 3 of 44.)

      From: Is it Illegal to Secretly Record Someone in Massachusetts?https://www.bostonlawyerblog.com/is-it-illegal-to-secretly-record-someone-in-massachusetts/

      Massachusetts courts have held that a recording is not “secret” under the statute where a person has actual knowledge that the conversation is being recorded or there is objective evidence indicating that the person knew they were being recorded and nevertheless continued speaking. For example, if one holds out a tape recorder in plain view of the speaker, such a recording would not be secret, and any statements the person makes after knowing they are being recorded are considered to be recorded with that person’s consent.

  4. Amen @stevechard! Vandalism and yelling bad words at folks isn’t very ethical behavior either, yet on they go, personal attack guns a shooting. The union wants to win at any cost, and won’t care about the fracture it leaves behind. If they have to hassle a few officials or publicly shame someone with lies and half truths on social media and via the newspapers, it’ll be worth it for them. The union says they are being bullied, while being bullies themselves.

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