Striking Vineyard bus drivers OK contract, will return to work Tuesday
Bus drivers on Martha’s Vineyard Sunday afternoon approved their first-ever contract, which calls for pay increases and seniority protections — and ends a monthlong strike against their company during the busy tourist season.
The drivers, who are represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union, are employed by Florida-based Transit Connection Inc., which is contracted to operate buses for the Vineyard Transit Authority.
The vote was 32 to 1, according to the union. Drivers return to work on Tuesday.
In a statement released by the union following the vote, driver Richard Townes said: “This is a historical day for VTA drivers and a great day for the island. We can now better provide for our families, our jobs are more secure, and we can get back to safely transporting our riders, friends and allies, whose support on the picket lines and year-round was critical in achieving this fair contract.”
Starting Thursday under the contract, hourly pay for new drivers goes up $3 to $19.50, and rises to $20.50 in two years.
The time it would take drivers to reach the top pay rate was reduced from 13 years to seven years, and that rate will be increased $2 to $25.50, and reach $27.50 by 2021.
Drivers had said their pay was not sustainable, given the island’s high cost of living.
The contract also takes seniority into consideration when assigning schedules, gives drivers double pay when they work on holidays, and protects union members during layoffs.
Transit Connection is prohibited from subcontracting out work performed by members that could result in layoffs.
The deal will not expand health insurance or cover members’ spouses and children.
The drivers had been picketing since they walked off the job June 28. On Wednesday, they rallied at the State House and called for a state audit and investigation of the transit authority.
The union said late Thursday night that it had reached a tentative deal with the company.
On Sunday, Townes said the strike was behind them.
“Our goal now is to work to improve the VTA to provide the safest, most reliable, and most affordable bus service for our community and our island,” Townes said. “We hope the VTA administrator and private contractor TCI will work together with us to achieve that goal.”
Ahead of Sunday’s vote, VTA administrator Angela Grant pointed to an earlier statement the agency had released regarding the contract.
“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, we understand how difficult it has been on some people,” according to the statement, released Friday. “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 transportaton on the Vineyard and sometimes dealing with difficult situations in the short term are necessary for a favorable outcome in the long term.”
Sunday’s vote marked the union’s second attempt to get a contract since 2003, when TCI took over the island’s bus service and the drivers unionized.
Following that vote, contract talks lasted for more than a year until drivers decided to decertify the union. Drivers told the Amalgamated Transit Union they were encouraged by promises from TCI to vote the union down, although the company denies the charge.
The drivers unionized again in 2015, but spent years in disputes over election results and labor practices.
The sides began negotiating a new contract last September, and a few months ago a federal mediator got involved.
After the strike began last month, bus service continued with replacement drivers running reduced schedules on some routes. The VTA said taxpayer money accounts for about 70 percent of its funding.
The drivers attracted the support of members of the state’s congressional delegation, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Ed Markey, and Representative William Keating, according to the Martha’s Vineyard Times.
The drivers’ strike followed other actions by labor organizations, including a strike by Stop & Shop workers earlier this year and another by Marriott hotel workers in Boston, who joined a national strike in 2018.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the day drivers return to work.