Media Center

Jul 25

Striking VTA Bus Drivers, TCI Reach Tentative Agreement

Workers Will Have Final Say with Vote on Agreement, Sunday, July 28

Vineyard Haven, MA – On the 28th day of their historic labor strike and after two days of marathon bargaining sessions, Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) bus drivers represented by Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1548 have reached a tentative agreement with their employer, Transit Connection, Inc. (TCI). If the agreement is ratified by union members at their meeting this Sunday, July 28, it will mark the first time that Vineyard bus drivers have had a collective bargaining agreement.

“This is a victory for VTA bus drivers and all working families on our island,” said VTA driver Richard Townes.  “The strike worked. 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.”

The tentative agreement includes critical wage increases with the highest wage rate increasing by 8.5 percent from $23.50 to $25.50 starting August 1, 2019.  The top rate will then increase again on August 1, 2020 to $27.00, with the final increase occurring August 1, 2021, to $27.50.  The starting wage rate for new hires will increase by more than 18 percent from $16.50 to $19.50 on August 1, 2019. The starting wage will then increase to $20 on August 1, 2020, and then increase to $20.50 on August 1, 2021. The previous 13-year completion and 14-step progression to achieve the top rate has been reduced to a 7-year completion and 8-step progression.

Another big win is that seniority will now be recognized when it comes to the selection of work, which will also be more transparent. In addition, drivers working on a holiday will be paid double their regular hourly wage rate for all hours worked. Any driver not working on a holiday will receive a regular day’s pay for the holiday. The agreement also includes critical layoff protections for union members. In the event of layoffs at VTA all non-bargaining unit drivers are required to be laid off before any bargaining unit members.

In another critical job protection won by the union, the private employer, TCI, is prohibited from subcontracting any work performed by employees represented by the ATU that could result in layoffs.

The tentative agreement follows a dramatic five years of conflict between VTA drivers, the VTA Administrator, and TCI, the private contractor. Driven by concerns about bus safety, a severe driver shortage, wage stagnation, dangerous reliance on overtime, and abusive management tactics by both TCI and VTA supervisors, the bus drivers voted to join the ATU. TCI fought the union election and refused to recognize the union. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and eventually the 11th Circuit Court ordered TCI to recognize and negotiate with the ATU.

For the past year, negotiations moved slowly until TCI put its “last, best, and final offer” right as peak tourist season on the island began. Left with no other avenue to win justice, drivers set a strike date of June 28,2019, and walked off the job. TCI and VTA hired and housed scab workers to replace the year-round unionized bus drivers during the strike, which resulted in limited bus service during the strike.

For the past month, the drivers have picketed daily and organized their neighbors and other allies to apply pressure to an absentee VTA Advisory Board, spurring three out of six town Boards of Selectmen on the island to take action. They also won the support of four presidential candidates—including two U.S. Senators and a former Vice President—and the state and federal delegations who represent the Vineyard; and cast a national spotlight on the cost of living and income inequality on the island.

“We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the solidarity of our neighbors and other allies, who rely on and support us year-round,” Townes continued. “We still have a lot of work to do together to fix the VTA, but this is a fair contract. Right now we’re ready to get back on the bus and see our riders and friends again and to hopefully develop a mutually respectful and collaborative relationship with the VTA Administrator and TCI, the private contractor, because in our view that’s what’s best for the island.”

The ratification vote set for this Sunday, July 28, is closed to the press, and a statement on the results will be issued once the ballots are tallied.