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Martha’s Vineyard bus drivers reach tentative deal to end strike

Bus drivers on Martha's Vineyard.
Bus drivers on Martha's Vineyard.Erin Clark for The Boston Globe

Bus drivers on Martha’s Vineyard have reached a tentative agreement with their employer, Transit Connection Inc., to end a monthlong strike and approve what would be their first union contract.

The drivers, represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union, will hold a vote to ratify the contract on Sunday.

The tentative deal would increase wages, ensure that seniority is taken into consideration when schedules are assigned, give drivers double pay on holidays, and protect union members during layoffs. Florida-based Transit Connection Inc., or TCI, which is contracted to operate bus service by the Vineyard Transit Authority, is also prohibited from subcontracting out work performed by union members that could result in layoffs.

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The drivers did not get the expanded health insurance plan they were seeking, which would have covered spouses and children.

“The strike worked,” driver Richard Townes said in a statement released by the union. “We didn’t get everything we deserve, but we got a lot closer to what we need and saw significant improvement from the company’s last offer in early June.”

Buses have continued to run on the island during the strike, including over the busy Fourth of July holiday, with replacement drivers running reduced schedules on some routes.

The transit authority, known as VTA, noted in a statement that taxpayer money accounts for approximately 70 percent of its funding.

“The VTA would like to thank all of our drivers and riders that made the difficult decision to cross the picket line and support the Vineyard community,” the VTA said. “We understand how difficult it has been on some people. We would also like to apologize to all of our riders and drivers as the VTA has a responsibility to ensure the future of public transportation on the Vineyard and sometimes dealing with difficult situations in the short term are necessary for a favorable outcome in the long term.”

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The agreement would increase wages signficantly for drivers, who argued that their pay was unsustainable given the high cost of living on the island, although they didn’t get as much as they were pushing for. On Aug. 1, starting pay for new drivers will go up $3 an hour, to $19.50, and increase to $20.50 in two years. The top rate, now achievable within seven years instead of 13, will immediately jump $2 an hour, to $25.50, rising to $27.50 by 2021.

This is the Vineyard drivers’ second attempt to get a contract since TCI took over the island bus service 16 years ago. After drivers voted to unionize in 2003, contract negotiations dragged on for more than a year before the drivers voted to decertify the union. At the time, drivers told the ATU they were enticed by promises from TCI to vote down the union, a charge the company denies.

In 2015, they voted to unionize again, only to get locked in a battle over disputed election results and unfair labor practices that went on for years. Finally, in September, the two sides sat down to negotiate an initial contract. A few months ago, a federal mediator got involved.

The drivers have been picketing daily since they walked off the job June 28, and on Wednesday they held a rally at the State House calling for a state audit and investigation of the VTA. They attracted support from a number of politicians, including senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren.

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The strike was the latest in a string of work stoppages in the state over the past year. Last fall, Marriott hotel workers in Boston joined a national action against the hotel chain, picketing for six weeks and emerging with a contract that pioneered a number of significant protections for employees. In April, 31,000 Stop & Shop workers walked out and didn’t come back for 11 days, crippling the grocery store chain as it struggled to maintain food deliveries — and customers.


Katie Johnston can be reached at katie.johnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.