BRTA paratransit drivers accept offer, ending two-week strike

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PITTSFIELD — After a strike lasting more than two weeks, paratransit drivers have accepted the latest contract offer by the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority.

"I think there was definitely a compromise," he told The Eagle on Tuesday. "I think both sides wanted to get the people back to work."

The BRTA was notified Tuesday morning by a federal mediator who has been working with the agency and the union, Teamsters Local 404, that the contentious contract negotiation has come to an end.

The drivers of paratransit vehicles, which serve the mobility impaired, have been on strike since Dec. 3. The strike has also affected fixed route buses, because the drivers share the same union and refused to cross the picket line.

Malnati said that the contract agreement, which includes a 17 percent raise for full-time drivers, is retroactive to July 1, 2018, and runs through June 30, 2020.

A significant portion of the increase, however, was necessary just to get the drivers up to the new minimum wage of $12 an hour, which starts in January, Malnati said.

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The BRTA's initial offer Dec. 2, which prompted the strike, included a proposed 16 percent hourly wage increase for full-time drivers. There was another contract offer last week, which the union also rejected.

"I hope they're happy to be coming back to work," Malnati said. "I don't think anyone wants this. It's very stressful on everyone."

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Union spokesman Victor Santiago didn't immediately return a message seeking comment on Tuesday.

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

The BRTA contracted vendors to assist transporting those who are mobility-impaired, but some people who use the service reported shortcomings over the last two weeks. 

 

Brian Fitzpatrick, a regular user of the paratransit buses, who spoke out last week about the impact the strike had on disabled individuals, expressed relief that the strike has come to an end.

 

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But he but doesn't want the conversation on busing to end here.

Now that the employment issue is settled, he hopes the BRTA can work on improving the on-call van service, starting with extending its hours. 

Paratransit service currently shuts down at 7 p.m. on the weekdays and 2 p.m. on the weekend. 

"That's a problem for people like me. We can't always plan things before 7 o'clock at night or 2 o'clock in the afternoon," he said. "I'm glad that [BRTA and the drivers] got what they wanted, but I'm also looking forward to see what else they can do."

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

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

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