BRTA, union mediation session leaves some hopeful

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PITTSFIELD — A mediation session this week between the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority and the union that represents paratransit drivers left some optimistic that the contentious contract negotiations will soon come to an end, according to Victor Santiago, business agent for the Pittsfield unit of Teamsters 404.

On Nov. 5, the union that represents BRTA paratransit drivers voted to reject a contract offer and authorize a strike to occur on or around Nov. 16. That strike was postponed, but the threat of one has lingered.

The contract in dispute is between the BRTA's 15 paratransit drivers and a First Transit subsidiary, Paratransit Management of the Berkshires, which has operated the BRTA's on-call bus service since July 2016.

"People cannot live on minimum wages," Santiago said of the reason for the strike.

On Monday, both groups met with a mediator in Hartford, Conn., and Santiago believes that progress was made in terms of contract negotiations.

The BRTA is expected to reach out to the union by Friday to "hopefully" make a new contract offer, Santiago said.

"They're going to respond to us either by an email or a call. We'll be waiting," he said. "We had a good meeting. ... Everyone thought it was very good. We believe that we made some moves, and the company is going to respond to us."

In addition to the paratransit drivers, who operate small on-call vans for mobility-impaired individuals, the union also represents 38 fixed-route drivers.

If paratransit drivers were to strike, it would likely affect fixed-route buses.

There were several close calls for BRTA strikes last winter, but they were narrowly averted after negotiations between the same two groups.

BRTA Administrator Robert Malnati was out of the office Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.

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


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