By Mark Davis
on Tue, Mar 11, 2014 at 11:14 AM
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file: Oliver Parini
The relief felt by Burlington area commuters when Chittenden County Transportation Authority bus drivers abandoned their plan to strike on Monday may prove fleeting.
The head of the drivers' union says he will vote 'No' on a contract proposal that CCTA presented to drivers late Saturday night and believes his colleagues will follow suit. A vote on the contract offer will happen as soon as tomorrow, the union says, and no later than the weekend.
Drivers say that if they reject CCTA's offer, a strike could soon follow.
In an interview, union head Rob Slingerland said CCTA's latest offer is not significantly different than a previous proposal, which drivers rejected 53-4 in February.
“They keep throwing us little pieces of cheese,” Slingerland said. “It’s not going to keep us from walking. We are headstrong this time, and if they’re not taking us seriously, they’re going to find out. I’m definitely a ‘no’ vote. They could throw in a $10-an-hour raise and it would be a ‘no’ to me.”
While declining to delve into specifics, Slingerland said the new contract fails to address the union's two core concerns: CCTA's desire to hire more part-timers and the 13.5 hour "spread" between when drivers begin their morning runs and when they complete their evening runs. (Many CCTA drivers work split shifts, taking time off in the afternoon between the busy morning and evening commutes. Drivers say CCTAs schedules are burdensome and should be revamped. CCTA said the schedules are an unavoidable part of a transit system that serves people traveling to and from work.)
"It's no better than the one we voted down," said driver Sherry Siebenaler, who also plans to vote against the deal. "It's a slap in the face."
CCTA spokeswoman Meredith Birkett said the agency has been advised by a federal mediator helping in the negotiations to refrain from comment. "To maintain the best environment for careful consideration of the proposal, we do not have any additional comments at this time."
CCTA has said that almost all of its service — the non-profit provides nearly 10,000 rides a day along its sprawling network — would be unavailable during a strike.
Slingerland said drivers, who have held public rallies in recent weeks, are hoping that riders will understand.
“We have relationships with our ridership," Slingerland said. "We know what a strike would do. We want this over as fast as possible. (But) we expect a fair contract.”