Contract vote canceled, so possibility of BRTA strike avoided, for now

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PITTSFIELD — One day after announcing a possible bus driver strike that would halt all Berkshire Regional Transit Authority routes beginning Monday, the BRTA administrator said service will run as scheduled.

On Friday afternoon, the BTRA was notified that a federal mediator became involved in contract negotiations between the union representing BRTA bus drivers and Paratransit Management of the Berkshires, a subsidiary of First Transit that began operating BRTA's on-call bus service in July 2016, according to BRTA Administrator Robert Malnati.

If drivers of the BRTA's paratransit service — those are the on-call buses offered to the disabled and the elderly in the Berkshires — didn't accept the company's "Best and Final Offer" that was going to be presented at a vote initially scheduled for Sunday, all BRTA drivers, including of fixed-route buses, would strike, Malnati said he was told Friday.

But on Satrurday afternoon, Malnati was notified that the scheduled vote for Sunday was canceled and buses would operate as normal Monday.

"A lot of us who live in the hilltowns, we rely on the buses," Linda Poplaski of Dalton said while waiting for a bus at the BRTA station in Pittsfield on Saturday.

Poplaski was one of more than a dozen passengers waiting for a bus at 3:30 p.m., many of them talking about the potential strike, which, at that point, was still possible.

Poplaski, who works in Pittsfield Public Schools, said that her daughter has a car, but if the buses don't run, it would be an inconvenience to ask for a ride to work at 6 a.m.

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Paratransit Management of the Berkshires is in the midst of its first contract negotiation with its drivers, who have been hired in the time since the company took over, according to Malnati.

While the contract in dispute is for only the drivers of the 15 small on-call buses, the paratransit drivers and the drivers of the traditional fixed-route buses are all represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 404, so the strike would have affected all bus service, according to Malnati.

Malnati wasn't told Saturday whether the vote had been rescheduled.

The last strike that affected BRTA service was in 2004 and involved only the fixed-route service, Malnati said.

There are more than a dozen fixed weekday bus routes offered through BRTA that make up to 14 trips a day, according to schedules on the BRTA website.

Messages left with the Teamsters Local 404, First Transit and Paratransit Management of the Berkshires were not immediately returned Saturday.

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


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