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Monday, March 31, 2014

UPDATE: CCTA Board Calls for Replacement Drivers, Possible Legal Action

Posted By on Mon, Mar 31, 2014 at 1:35 PM

CCTA board members are making plans to hire temporary drivers and take legal action to end a strike heading into its third week. Commissioner Chapin Spencer is at left, with Chairman Tom Buckley of Winooski next to him. - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • CCTA board members are making plans to hire temporary drivers and take legal action to end a strike heading into its third week. Commissioner Chapin Spencer is at left, with Chairman Tom Buckley of Winooski next to him.
Updated Monday 7:40 p.m.

The CCTA Board of Commissioners is turning up the heat on striking bus drivers.

After emerging from their second closed door session of the day this evening, commissioners instructed CCTA administrators to plan to hire  temporary replacement bus drivers or pursue legal action to end the strike if a deal is not soon reached on their disputed contract. 

"The crediblity of our service is on the line and as board members we've got to get this service going again," said commissioner Brian Palaia.

"Lets say the offer is on the table, but we've got to start planning to get the buses rolling," added commissioner Steve Magowan.

The board would have to approve either step, either of which would likely provoke the ire of striking drivers. The resolution passed by
the commissioners instructs management to report back on a plan for alternative measures by Thursday, when the board plans to reconvene.

"In the interests of restoring transit service as quickly as possible the board request that staff prepare an action plan that includes options for legal actions to end the strike and authorizes staff to secure temporary drivers for the board's approval," a draft of the
resolution reads.

The drivers union could not immediately be reached for comment.

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

CCTA Negotiations Crumble, Bus Strike Headed for Week Three

Posted By on Sat, Mar 29, 2014 at 4:09 PM


Well, so much for hoping that Chittenden County Transportation Authority drivers would soon get back behind the wheel. 

While drivers on the picket lines on Friday said they had been told to plan to vote on a new contract today and were preparing to return to work by Monday, a marathon 17-hour bargaining session failed to yield an agreement between management and union representatives. 

By Saturday morning, it had became clear that there would be no deal, no vote and no end in sight for the 71 union drivers — or for the students, workers and and other daily riders who have been forced to seek alternate transportation or found themselves stranded since drivers began striking earlier this month. Normally, the bus agency provides 9,700 rides a day. 

"The mediator called it off because there was no forward movement," driver spokesman Rob Slingerland said in a statement posted on the drivers' website. "Negotiating team held strong as the company literally attacked everything! Not quite sure what the company is looking for but it sure looks like they aren't caring too much about their ridership! They give, they take back, they give, they take back. Why are we even talking to them? So sad ...... Going into 3rd week of walking the line and twice we met and they wanted it their way ..... as usual. Solidarity ......."

Bus drivers and their supporters held another rally downtown today. At CCTA headquarters, officials say they had offered "significant compromises" and were able to reach a tentative agreement on one of the four remaining sticking points — how the agency handles complaints and uses security cameras on buses. 

But they could not come to agreement with union leaders on issues including the length of drivers' split shifts and their compensation. According to the Vermont Workers Center, drivers offered a compromise on allowing more part-time workers, which they have been against, but management "refused to budge" on other priorities.

No new negotiating sessions are scheduled. CCTA said it had offered union negotiators a complete contract proposal that it should put to a vote of membership. (Drivers unanimously rejected the last contract they voted on.) Alternately, CCTA said drivers owe them a counter offer.

"The union could choose to bring this complete contract proposal to the drivers to a vote, although it did not commit to doing so," said the nonprofit bus agency, which get much of its revenue from state and local tax dollars. "CCTA hopes the union will elect to bring the most recent complete proposal to a vote in the interest of restoring service for our passengers as quickly as possible."

Meanwhile, both sides are taking their case directly to the public. Drivers and their supporters set up a website rallying people to the picket lines, providing details on contract sticking points and encouraging financial donations. CCTA invited members of the public to a special meeting of its governing board Monday at 7:30 a.m. at the O'Brien Community Center in Winooski. The meeting notice said member of the public are welcome to "offer comments about CCTA's services." 

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Abenaki Artifacts to Return to Original Burial Ground

Posted By on Fri, Mar 28, 2014 at 6:01 PM

Seven stone relics unearthed in the 1980s from an ancient Missisquoi Abenaki burial ground in Swanton will be returned to tribal members, the Preservation Trust of Vermont announced Friday.  

The relics surfaced in early March when the people who used to own the land put them up for auction. Upon discovering that they were listed on Duane Merrill & Company's auction website, members of the Abenaki community — as well as state employees in the Division of Historic Preservation — scrambled to stop the sale scheduled for March 30.

Seven Days covered the story in this week's paper, but the artifacts' fate remained in limbo at the time it was published. Ethan Merrill, who co-owns the Williston-based auction company, had agreed to take the items off the auction block — in deference to the Abenakis' beliefs — and he said he was working to broker a compromise between the consignors, John and Anita Boucher, and tribal representatives. Another plan, in which a private benefactor would purchase the artifacts and donate them to UVM's Fleming Museum, fell through last week.  

The Preservation Trust, a nonprofit founded in 1980 "to help communities save and use historic places," announced that it had helped facilitate a deal that was agreeable to the Bouchers and Abenaki tribal members. 

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Optimism For CCTA Deal; Drivers May Vote Tomorrow

Posted By on Fri, Mar 28, 2014 at 2:42 PM

From left, CCTA drivers Dale Meigs, Dave McKenzie, Alain Hirsch, Tom Griffith, and Kevin Favreau  picketing outside CCTA headquarters. - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • From left, CCTA drivers Dale Meigs, Dave McKenzie, Alain Hirsch, Tom Griffith, and Kevin Favreau picketing outside CCTA headquarters.
The end appears near.

Negotiations between the bus drivers'  union and Chittenden County Transportation Authority management are currently taking place. Drivers picketing outside CCTA headquarters said they have been told to tentatively plan to vote on a new contract tomorrow, and to return to work Sunday or Monday.

"It looks pretty good," driver Tom Griffith said. "We're ready to vote on a good, fair offer."

While waiting for their leadership to bring them a proposed deal, the drivers chatted about life on the picket line and their grievances with CCTA, and how they have organized themselves during their two week strike.

The 71-member drivers'  union has designated captains, who are responsible for organizing and communicating with roughly eight drivers each. Driver spokesman Rob Slingerland communicates to the captains, who notify their team, gather feedback, and send it back to Slingerland.

Noor Ibrahim is the designated captain of the eight person crew that has been conducting 10 a.m. to 1 pm. picket outside CCTA headquarters. 

Huddled under a bus shelter that was being whipped by cold wind and rain this morning, the men on the team were in an upbeat mood. They laughed when one struggled to parallel park in front of them (drivers'  humor) and cracked jokes about their mini-United Nations feel. Ibrahim, a Somalia native, heads a group that features a Bosnian, a Frenchman and native Vermonters, and spans decades in age range.

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St. Michael's Custodians Sign Union Contract; First for School

Posted By on Fri, Mar 28, 2014 at 7:48 AM

  • Courtesy of St. Michael's College

St. Michael’s College and its custodians have signed the first union contract in the school’s 110-year history.

The agreement was announced on Wednesday in an email message from Michael New, St. Michael’s vice president for human resources. He called the contract between the Catholic college and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) “mutually beneficial.”

New didn’t have much to add to that statement in a telephone interview on Thursday, saying only that the deal represented “a learning experience.” Asked what he had learned, New said, “That it’s important for all administrators or managers to listen to their employees.”

Custodian and union activist Graham Lebel laid out the provisions of the contract that runs through October 31, 2016, and that was ratified earlier this week by a vote of 27-2.

Lebel said the 37 St. Michael’s workers included in the bargaining unit have won hourly wage increases of 1 percent immediately, another 1 percent on July 1, and 2 percent at the start of 2016. He estimated that the hikes will lift a custodian’s starting pay of $11.50 an hour by about 60 cents over the life of the contract.

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Campbell (Sort of) Walks Back Single-Payer Comments; Shumlin Mounts Defense

Posted By on Thu, Mar 27, 2014 at 8:33 PM

Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell and Lt. Gov. Phil Scott - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell and Lt. Gov. Phil Scott
What was John Campbell thinking?

That's been the prevailing sentiment around the Statehouse since Vermont Public Radio quoted the Senate president pro tem Tuesday questioning the political viability — and the cost — of Gov. Peter Shumlin's proposed single-payer health care system.

"From what I see right now about the price tag that's associated with ... the financing for a single-payer system, I have my concerns," Campbell told VPR, adding that it "may not be something that would be politically viable in this legislative body, due to the costs involved."

The Senate prez also indicated that he hoped to have a Plan B ready "if this doesn't work out."

Since the story ran, Campbell has been trying to walk it back. Sort of. 

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Shumlin Mum on Scheuermann Bid

Posted By on Thu, Mar 27, 2014 at 6:40 PM

Gov. Peter Shumlin - PAUL HEINTZ
  • Paul Heintz
  • Gov. Peter Shumlin
A day after Rep. Heidi Scheuermann (R-Stowe) said she was considering a challenge to Gov. Peter Shumlin, the second-term Democrat declined to weigh in on his potential opponent. 

"You know, I'm always hesitant to comment on any of the 180 legislators," the gov said at the Statehouse during his weekly press conference. "You know, they're all great. They're like kids. You don't want to start talking about one, because you hurt the feelings of the other."

Insisting that he "love[s] going out and talking to Vermonters, asking them whether we're on the right track," Shumlin nevertheless said he wouldn't be hitting the campaign trail anytime soon. 

"I put off any discussions about what next, who next or why next until Labor Day, or shortly thereafter," he said. "I'd be happy to talk about it after that time, but what I'm going to do, meanwhile, is focus on my job of creating jobs." 

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CCTA: Drivers Made "Credible" Offer, Negotiations Imminent

Posted By on Thu, Mar 27, 2014 at 12:40 PM

Striking CCTA bus drivers have maintained a picket line at Church and Cherry streets every day since walking out last week. - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • Striking CCTA bus drivers have maintained a picket line at Church and Cherry streets every day since walking out last week.
The Chittenden County Transportation Authority said striking bus drivers submitted a "credible" contract offer last night and expect negotiations to resume soon — the first encouraging sign of progress in an ongoing labor dispute that has stalled public transportation in the region. 

The drivers' offer was delivered at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, as the Burlington City Council was debating a resolution encouraging parties to come to an agreement, CCTA officials said in a statement.

"It is CCTA’s hope that the union’s new compromise proposal will move the discussion forward on the remaining four articles — wages, work rules, security cameras and the use of part-time drivers," the agency said today. "A fair and respectful negotiation that arrives at a compromise on each of the four remaining issues is CCTA’s preferred course for restoring service to the communities we serve.

"The union’s most recent proposal represents a productive step toward compromise and we expect negotiations with the assistance of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service will be restored very soon," the CCTA statement read.

CCTA did not release details of the contract offer, and union representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

Drivers went on strike last Monday, forcing 9,700 daily bus riders, including many lower-income residents, to seek alternate transportation or be stranded. 

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Council Chooses Lender for Burlington Telecom Settlement

Posted By on Thu, Mar 27, 2014 at 6:52 AM

One step closer. The Burlington City Council on Wednesday selected a financier for a $6 million bridge loan to pay off the city's settlement with Citibank in the Burlington Telecom dispute.

Councilors unanimously voted to accept a loan from Burlington businessman Trey Pecor and Merchants Bank over an offer from Rosemawr Management LLC, a firm based in New York City that specializes in municipal financing. With the loan, the city will be able to pay the $10.5 million settlement with Citibank over Burlington Telecom's financial woes. Citibank financed the infrastructure for the city-owned utility. It sued two years ago, demanding that the city pay $33.5 million for the cost of the network.

The Pecor/Merchants Bank loan offered a lower interest rate — seven percent — and would allow the city to recoup more money from an eventual sale of Burlington Telecom than Rosemawr's proposal. Here is how it will work: 

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Burlington City Council Rejects Measure Urging Bus Driver Arbitration

Posted By on Thu, Mar 27, 2014 at 6:41 AM

Burlington city councilors face a packed crowd of CCTA drivers and supporters while debating a resolution urging the drivers and management to settle their differences in binding arbitration. - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • Burlington city councilors face a packed crowd of CCTA drivers and supporters while debating a resolution urging the drivers and management to settle their differences in binding arbitration.
In a victory for striking Chittenden County Transportation Authority bus drivers, the Burlington City Council on Wednesday rejected a motion that would have urged the parties to settle their grievances with management in legally binding arbitration, a step drivers have refused to take.

After an emotionally charged 5-hour meeting that saw dozens of speakers and numerous amendments, councilors passed a hollowed-out resolution. Rather than calling on CCTA and the drivers parties to use binding arbitration or "other alternative means" of reaching a deal, councilors simply urged them to work toward resolving the standoff.

Many at the council table acknowledged the resolution would have little practical impact, including Mayor Miro Weinberger, who had earlier urged the transit agency and drivers to engage in binding arbitration as a way to get buses rolling again. 

"There's nothing to disagree with," the mayor said of the resolution. "I'm concerned we're not signaling enough urgency, understanding the pain in the community. I thought that was the intent of having this tonight."

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