Teamsters at GMT Urban in Burlington will meet over the weekend to decide the fate of a final offer made by the company. This will be the first contract vote in five years by the group which is responsible for a majority of the public busing in the Burlington Vermont Area. There is a large contingent of drivers, including the negotiating team, that have made it clear that they plan to reject the final offer made by GMT, which would reduce and limit employee options regarding time accruals.
The previous five year agreement between the Drivers at GMT and the Urban Bus Company expired at the end of the day on the 30th of June, and there is currently no contract extension in place. "Teamsters Local 597 and GMT have been in negotiations since March, but after several months there still is no mutual agreement and we have reached an impasse with the company regarding the use of CTO time." according to Teamster Business Agent Curtis Clough. "The company had come out of the box seeking to eliminate the popular employee benefit and are seeking a cap, but are unwilling to agree to allow more use of the time, which would lead to more senior drivers losing the time in their banks because they wouldn't be able to use it unless they constantly called out. The union offered the company a litany of ways to mitigate what they see as an issue, but they were only interested in a heavy handed approach."
Tensions between the workers and GMT management have been growing since the fall when the Board of Commissioners voted to end a pandemic related premium to pay early for the group that cleans and sanitizes the buses, openly linking the decision to an unrelated grievance filed by the group. During the winter, as the pandemic intensified, the board announced that they would be seeking to end the well received flexible time off program for all employees. They even announced that they were going to implement a ban on the American Flag and a ban on any clothing that showed support for BLM, only walking back the ban when it became clear the drivers had no intention of complying. As spring wore on the company began aggressively seeking to terminate ill and injured workers, including some long-term employees, despite having fewer routes than normal that needed to be operated. When employees complained and petitioned to have a member of management investigated who was accused of mistreating and demeaning injured and disabled employees GMT Management and the Board of Commissioners declined to even investigate.
As COVID-19 has wound down in Vermont, the drivers have experienced more instances of rage by passengers who don’t agree with the federal mandate of masks on Public Transit which the drivers are obligated to enforce for most riders. The mask flashpoint has led to several instances of assaults against the drivers, who drive routes from before 5 am until after midnight. For many of the drivers, use of this flexible combined time off program is the only recourse when they are too shaken to continue the route after unruly passengers scream at them about the mask policy on the bus or try to get at them after being asked to depart.
Throughout this all the drivers have been patiently and persistently holding their ground telling the company representatives that they would not allow the company to use the pandemic as justification for removing their benefits. ‘It is hard to negotiate without the decision maker in the room’ laments long time steward and negotiating team member Derek Lorrain, referring to the fact that the Board of Commissioners has not sent a member to the table to negotiate with the drivers.
The driver’s received the company message loud and clear when the company forced in several drivers to work during Independence Day Holiday celebrations instead of using all volunteers like they normally would have, the message was clear – 13.5 hours of your day are not enough, we want your holiday too – and all this will be on the mind of the drivers when they meet on July 11th to discuss the Company Offer.