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.
One upshot of standing outside in the cold every day during the strike, they said, is that they have been brought closer. Driving is an inherently lonely pursuit that leaves little time to talk to their co-workers, they said. When they are finally done with split shifts that can run more than 12 hours, most drivers are eager to park the bus and head home to their families.
But today, Ibrahim said of his fellow drivers, "We are family."
The drivers stressed that, while some riders have urged them to return to work, any doubts about the validity of their concerns should have been eased by the solidarity they have shown.
Drivers voted 54-0 to reject CCTA's most recent offer, after rejecting a February offer by a 53-4 vote. They have gone without pay for two weeks without a single driver breaking ranks.
"Management doesn't see that, the general public doesn't see that; 54-0, obviously there's an issue," Dave McKenzie said.
"People have to understand, something is wrong with CCTA," Alain Hirsch said.
They said that union leaders' complaints about CCTA's "predatory management" are deeply felt. While drivers said they do not object to having cameras in their buses, for instance, they say managers spend too many hours monitoring video footage and are too eager to launch disciplinary proceedings for minor infractions. They hope the new contract will forbid CCTA management from investigating anonymous complaints, which, they said, would make an already hostile relationship even worse.
Managers, driver Dale Meigs said, "are supposed to be there for us, if we have a problem — drunk people, medical situations. Instead they're doing this other stuff."
And, while drivers were optimistic that they would soon be back behind the wheel, they made it clear that hard feelings with management would remain.
"They don't care about us, our families. That's the pain we used to swallow," Ibrahim said. "Now we [told] the public about that pain. I don't like working for them. We like working for the people we serve. We like the people we serve."
CCTA driver Noor Ibrahim, captain of the eight person crew picketing outside CCTA headquarters, waves to the team while leaving the day's picket shift.