As BRTA strike continues, drivers reject newest contract offer

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PITTSFIELD — As Berkshire Regional Transit Authority drivers entered their second week of a strike, the company that manages the agency made another contract proposal. Again, it was rejected by the drivers.

Paratransit Management of the Berkshires, the company that manages the BRTA service, was informed Wednesday that the union, Teamsters Local 404, voted not to accept the latest offer. This offer included annual Jan. 1 wage increases, in addition to wage increases from a previous offer, according to a statement from BRTA Administrator Robert Malnati.

"BRTA believes that both of the rejected proposals, which remain available for acceptance, are fair and equitable to the employees and would keep the BRTA on viable financial ground to ensure the best likelihood of continuing the paratransit service at its current levels," Malnati wrote in the statement. "BRTA is disappointed in the rejection by the union of the latest offer and requests your continued patience as it works toward a financially responsible solution."

Drivers of the paratransit vans, which are on call for individuals with mobility issues, began their work stoppage Dec. 3, after rejecting a contract offer the day before.

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The BRTA has employed contract workers to drive the paratransit vans. Fixed-route drivers also have stopped working because they share a union with the paratransit drivers and won't cross their picket line.

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Both services have been limited since the strike began.

The limited fixed-route schedule has wiped out service south of Lee, in Williamstown, Dalton, Hinsdale, and sections of Pittsfield and North Adams.

The BRTA's offer Dec. 2 included a proposed 16 percent hourly wage increase for full-time drivers and 19.6 percent for part-timers. In addition, the three-year deal would give operators more paid time off and "other allowances."

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Union leaders claim that while the proposed percentage increase from the first offer might look large, some of its drivers would be making just above the state's minimum wage of $12.

The union's business agent, Victor Santiago, could not be reached immediately Wednesday. It's unclear what the union is seeking in the contract negotiations.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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