BRTA outlines rejected terms that led to strike

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PITTSFIELD — As a strike of paratransit drivers stretches deeper into its first week, the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority has revealed details of its latest offer, which remains on the table.

The offer includes what the BRTA terms a significant increase in pay and other benefits, but the union representing the paratransit drivers says it still is below a living wage.

In a prepared statement, BRTA management company First Transit said it proposed a 16 percent hourly wage increase for full-time drivers; 19.6 percent for part-timers. In addition, the three-year deal would give operators more paid time off and "other allowances."

The Pittsfield unit of Teamsters 404, which represents the BRTA's paratransit drivers as well as fixed-route drivers, voted down the offer Sunday and went on strike Monday morning.

The 15 paratransit drivers voted to strike in November, but union officials agreed to resume negotiations, leading to the Sunday offer.

The BRTA has enlisted outside vendors to handle the small on-call vans for mobility-impaired individuals that relied on the paratransit service, but regular bus service has been impacted because those drivers have honored the picket line.

"This is a disappointing situation where the paratransit division is impacting the fixed-route division, which has a current contract to work," said BRTA Administrator Robert Malnati. "Currently, the lines of communication remain open to hopefully resolve this strike quickly."

The fixed-route drivers are working under a three-year contract that took effect July 1.

Union business agent Victor Santiago said he also wants to return to the bargaining table, but no new talks have been scheduled with the federal mediator assigned to the negotiations.

While the percentage increase might look big, the paratransit drivers earn $11.50 to $12.50 an hour. The BRTA offer would push the lowest wage past the $12-an-hour level — the state's new minimum wage as of Jan. 1.

"They're playing with numbers," Santiago said.

The strike has BRTA riders caught in the middle as the public transportation system, using supervisors as drivers, has run limited fixed-route service, leaving Williamstown, Stockbridge, Great Barrington and Sheffield without any bus service. Some areas of Pittsfield and North Adams also are being shorted by the strike.

"This service ... is unfair to the riders of Berkshire County who depend on the bus every day," Malnati said.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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