What strike means for BRTA schedule

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PITTSFIELD — Many Berkshire Regional Transit Authority riders are being left at BRTA bus stops as a paratransit drivers strike enters its second day.

The 15 bus operators walked off the job Monday, after rejecting the latest contract offer on Sunday. The paratransit drivers formed a picket line the fixed-route drivers refused to cross, forcing BRTA supervisors to get behind the wheel of only five "B" buses on Monday morning.

BRTA Administrator Robert Malnati says it's the first driver work stoppage in nearly 15 years.

The current contract 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. The Pittsfield unit of Teamsters 404 represents both the paratransit and fixed route drivers, but the latter are already under contract.

With the fixed-route drivers on the sidelines, BRTA management was forced to operate a limited regular bus schedule on Monday, which was tweaked for Tuesday, according to Malnati.

"The schedule worked fine [on Monday], but we have only so many hours in the day," he said.

The limited fixed bus routes resulted in Stockbridge, Great Barrington, Sheffield and Williamstown without BRTA service, and some sections of Pittsfield and North Adams also being shorted on the public transportation.

While regular bus service was impacted, the BRTA did bring in outside vendors to handle the small on-call vans for mobility-impaired individuals.

"There were a couple of issues, otherwise the paratransit service went fairly smooth," Malnati noted.

He added that the BRTA has reached out to the union to find out "what's the next step" in resuming negotiations.

Teamsters 404 business agent Victor Santiago told The Eagle on Monday afternoon the paratransit strike will continue until management "gets serious and negotiates in good faith."

"I don't know who's calling the shots over there, but they don't seem to think we should make a living wage," he said.

The reportedly contentious negotiations nearly ended in a strike last month.

On Nov. 5, the union voted to reject a contract offer and authorize a strike to occur on or around Nov. 16. That strike was postponed and mediation resumed after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, with union officials telling The Eagle progress was being made during negotiations.

There were several close calls for paratransit drivers going on strike at the BRTA last winter, but they were narrowly averted after negotiations between the same two groups.

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


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