Open letter to town Selectboards regarding appointment of CCTA commisioners

During the recent strike at CCTA, a strike which never should have happened, your communities lost three weeks of bus service and thousands of dollars in tax revenue. Unfortunately, a large portion of the responsibility for the strike falls on the outgoing CCTA Board of Commissioners. As the current Chair of the Board of Commissioners said, the strike was brought on by issues which had been brewing for 10 years. The Chair himself sat on the Board for six of those years during which time he could have been instrumental in stopping the disregard and disrespect which contributed to the strike. In short, the strike would not have happened if the Board of Commissioners had taken an active role and directed CCTA management properly.

Calling ourselves the Vermont Community Alliance for Public Transportation (CAPT), we are a fledgling organization that was set up near the end of the CCTA strike to follow up on issues raised during the strike and to help ensure that there is not another strike at CCTA. Our mission statement says, “For the sake of our environment and for the dignity of our providers, Vermonters need to ensure optimal working conditions for drivers and staff and better public transportation options for all our citizens.” To this end, we seek to find ways to equalize the costs of public transportation; to find ways for better representation of all real and potential transit users; and to find ways to reduce unnecessary public transportation spending and focus it on improving service for communities. By providing a link between people in the communities, the CCTA Board of Commissioners, and other planning organizations, as well as working with the drivers, we feel that we can help CCTA in its own stated mission, “to promote and operate safe, convenient, accessible, innovative and sustainable public transportation services in the northwest and central Vermont region that reduce congestion and pollution, encourage transit oriented development and enhance the quality of life for all.”

There is nothing innovative about failing to change long standing poor management practices and allowing them to develop into irresolvable problems, problems which ended in a strike and service interruption for those whom you represent. Safety speaks for itself and was a key driver issue during the strike. Sustainability? If the CCTA Board of Commissioners allows the current environment at CCTA to persist, transit in Vermont will fall into a period of decline and the responsibility for the decline will rest fully with them. The first task CAPT assumed, and one which we are actively involved in, is to work with the members of the CCTA Board of Commissioners to quantify the reasons why the strike occurred and outline ways to correct the problems. To facilitate this, we are encouraging creation of a Board that does not perpetuate the problems at CCTA by doing management’s bidding. CAPT is asking that, as you think about who will represent your town on the CCTA Board of Commissioners, you find someone who will provide a new direction for the Board. That begins by appointing someone who will proactively and equitably address the problems at CCTA, who is strong enough to ask difficult questions of the entrenched leadership and who is willing to act as a liaison between the riders who are citizens of your communities, drivers and management. Once such a board is in place, we are committed to working with all the stakeholders to ensure that CCTA becomes a model transit agency and eventually to expand sustainable public transportation to all of Vermont.

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Appointments to the CCTA Board of Commissioners

VT CAPT’s Suggestions for Town Commissioners and Managers:

As the Town Selectmen, you are responsible for the appointing of CCTA Board Commissioners that are in touch with the current and ongoing need of creating a positive CCTA management culture that will promote a strong, supportive, and safe environment for all employees.

Among other things, the recent drivers’ strike at CCTA has highlighted the need to rethink the way CCTA is run. Whether that is done by making the drivers more involved in management decisions or by a total revamping of the management style at CCTA, much of the initiative to make changes will come from the CCTA Board of Commissioners.

Almost the entire CCTA Board of Commissioners will be eligible for replacement June 30, 2014. The two exceptions are Chapin Spencer (Burlington) and Bob Buermann (Grand Isle County) who will be finishing out their terms. This is a great opportunity to ensure that the new commissioners take a more proactive interest in what goes on at the operations level. This is important because of the pivotal role the CCTA Board of Commissioners plays in ensuring accountability, transparency and excellence in their representation of transit management, drivers and riders.

We, the public and users of CCTA, demand a change in CCTA policy to require all newly appointed CCTA Board of Commissioners to demonstrate a commitment to the best interests of drivers, riders, and company, personal engagement in bus-ridership, and an ongoing and active understanding of operational procedures at CCTA.
We, the public and users of CCTA, demand the Commissioners regularly report back to Town meetings on how well this is handled.
How you appoint your CCTA Board commissioner will make all of the difference as CCTA works to become a model transit agency that all of us can be proud of.

For more information, please contact me:
Charles Norris-Brown
for the Vermont Community Alliance for Public Transportation
conewango@gmail.com

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Fair and Accurate Operations Committee

Fair and Accurate Operations Committee

The CCTA Board of Commissioners is creating an Operations Committee in the aftermath of labor-management issues that ultimately resulted in a drivers strike that impacted thousands of riders.

We demand that the CCTA Commissioners include a way to allow for accurate and fair representation of CCTA transit drivers and riders and to work towards the creation of a positive, effective, and accountable management structure through this committee.  We expect transparent and inclusive participation of the drivers and the riders by the selection of two representatives, one from each of these constituencies (drivers and riders), to the Operations Committee.

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Appointing of Engaged and Qualified CCTA Board of Commissioners

Appointing of Engaged and Qualified CCTA Board of Commissioners

Please sign this petition to the selectmen and selectwomen of Burlington, South Burlington, Winooski, Williston, Essex, Milton, Shelburne, and Hinesburg.

As elected members of the Town Selectboard, they are responsible for the appointing of CCTA Board Commissioners that are in touch with the current and ongoing need of creating a positive CCTA management culture that will promote a strong, supportive, and safe environment for all employees.

We the public demand a change in CCTA policy to require all newly appointed CCTA Board of Commissioners to demonstrate a commitment to the best interests of drivers, riders, and company, personal engagement in bus-ridership, and an ongoing and active understanding of operational procedures at CCTA.

We, the public and users of CCTA, demand the Commissioners regularly report back to Town meetings on how well this is handled.

This is important because of the pivotal role the CCTA Board of Commissioners plays in ensuring accountability, transparency, and excellence in their representation of transit management, drivers and riders.

CALL TO ACTION

The news is in and almost the entire CCTA Board of Commissioners will be up eligible for replacement June 30, 2014. The two exceptions are Chapin Spencer (Burlington) and Bob Buermann (Grand Isle County) who will be finishing out their terms.

This is monumental news. It means that we can make an incredible difference in how CCTA conducts business. By replacing those individual members of the Board who took the odious step of voting to hire scab workers during the recent strike we can remove “Union Busters” from the Board. As good as this news is we need the help of all of the activists and interested people in Vermont!

You can make a difference in your community. Your actions will help determine whether CCTA will remain a bastion of predatory management, unsafe schedules and working conditions, and abusive treatment of workers, or if it will become a model transit agency treating workers and passengers with respect and dignity, thereby fulfilling the needs of the communities it serves in a responsible and sustainable fashion. You have a voice please speak up!

Some things you can do:

  1. Talk to your friends and neighbors. Explain what is going on with CCTA. Talk about transit-related issues. Ask them to contact their elected officials and challenge them to appoint new, progressive-thinking people to the CCTA Board of Commissioners!
  2. Send emails to your elected officials and encourage your neighbors to do the same.
  3. Attend a town meeting, select board meeting or city council meeting and speak up! (see talking points below).
  4. If possible, volunteer to be on the CCTA Board. The job takes about 4-8 hours a month. In Williston they have no applications to fill the opening left by Al Turgeon’s departure. If you can’t volunteer, talk to someone who might be available.
  5. Join VT CAPT and show your support. Show up for the meeting on Sunday May 18 at the Vermont Workers Center, 294 N Winooski Ave, Burlington, VT 05401 at 2:00pm. The meet-ing will only take an hour. We can all get on the bus together and roll forward for better transit for everyone.
  6. Winooski residents, show up at your Select Board meeting May 19 at 6:00pm and tell your leadership to replace Tom Buckley with Bob Millar. Mr. Buckley has been on the Board for a long time and it is time for fresh ideas! This is important!

Talking points:

  • Regarding CCTA:
    • CCTA belongs to the people of Vermont. It is the Board of Commissioners’ responsi-bility to answer to the people. The CCTA belongs to us, not some plutocrats who use it to their own ends.
    • The CCTA is primarily funded by tax payer dollars and as such they must answer to a higher authority. The people of Vermont want accountability as to how our money is spent on transportation.
  • For Select Board members and Town Managers:
    • As long as the composition of the CCTA Board remains the same the culture will remain the same. We want people on the CCTA Board who represent us. The entrenched culture of exclusion, obfuscation and confusion at CCTA will continue until such a time as the CCTA Board is more representative of the communities it serves.

CCTA Operations Committee Comment Period Open Until 14 May 2014

At the March 26th Special Meeting in City Hall, Chapin Spencer told the Mayor and City Council that he intended for there to be driver representation on the newly forming Operations Committee. This committee is intended to provide feedback and oversight for human resources, management and overall company workings on an ongoing basis. In the April 22nd Board of
Commissioners meeting, this was expanded to non-voting representation on the committee by an interested driver and member of the public. One of each (driver and rider) was proposed.

On Monday CCTA Commissioners posted a draft for the creation of this committee with no mention of driver inclusion, and the only mention of any input from non-Board members being that these individuals “will provide advisory input to the Operations Committee relevant to its purpose at the committee’s request.” This statement MUST be corrected to reflect the promises made to the Burlington City Council and to the public. We recommend a change to the second paragraph as follows:

“CCTA staff, union employees, and community members from rural or urban areas served by CCTA, who are reflective of the diversity of the community, will provide advisory input to the Operations Committee relevant to its purpose.”

Further down in the document, the second bullet point in the list of Committee Responsibilities specifically rejects any driver input at all in the important task of a reporting process. This not only goes against what has been promised in public and by members of the Board itself, it perpetuates the problem the committee claims to be resolving. Additionally, since driver input is not mentioned anywhere else in the proposal, it is an insult to the drivers.
CCTA staff has been the problem. Asking that same staff to develop a reporting process is like asking a criminal to police him/herself and report back. In this case, there are two directions which could be taken: the first, to incorporate drivers directly; the second, to leave staff out of the equation and trust the Board by itself to determine its process. In the latter case, they will need anyway to come back to the staff and drivers, so it would be best to combine these into something like the following:

“Develop, with the help of both staff and union members, key elements of a maintenance, human resources and operational reporting process including the content, format, and frequency of performance reports to Board, and oversee implementation of the process.”

The Board is accepting public comments on this draft until May 14th.

Please tell Chapin Spencer and the Board to be true to their promise to City Council and all of us, that they intended to create better driver representation and inclusion within the membership of this committee.

Send comments to: info@cctaride.org

Thank you!

Dignity vs. Predation: The CCTA Strike by C. W. Norris-Brown

This post is by one of the founders of the Vermont Community Alliance for Public Transportation, Charles Norris-Brown and it originally appeared on the Second Vermont Republic blog on 11 April 2014.  It is re-blogged here with Chuck’s permission.

On March 17, 2014, CCTA drivers with their union Teamsters Local 597 went on strike. It ended April 4 when they went back to work. The drivers got most of what they demanded in their contract. They conceded on the part time drive issue but got enough protective wording to keep CCTA from turning their jobs into part time ones. They fought against management’s attempts to enforce longer work days, and a big gain was in their fight against predatory management, the constant stalking and punishing that has been going on for so long at CCTA.

Since transit jobs cannot be sent overseas, the CCTA strike is one of a series of strikes and actions by transit workers across the nation, many times in response to the neo-taylorism brought on by computerized scheduling and mercenarial management with no driving experience squeezing more out of labor with the help of ivory tower systems engineers. Locally, the strike forced open the wounds caused by a management style that has been around too long at CCTA. The “predatory management” style is, unfortunately, but the extreme end of the denigration of labor world wide. Since fighting this was one of the CCTA drivers’ biggest gains, let’s take a closer look at the various levels in which CCTA has tried to deprive the drivers of a voice.

The CCTA strike brought out two sides to the denigration of labor: one, the content and the process of bargaining, and two, the vindictive side — the predation of drivers and the dumbing down of public discourse.

PROCESS: What is being bargained

One of CCTA’s (and its subservient Board of Commissioners) trojan horses has been its push for part time drivers based on peak hour traffic needs. Buses run all day and into the evening in the Burlington area. But here, and especially where there are commuter links to other towns, there is a need to cover increased demand in the morning and evening. This creates an M-shaped demand curve and, subsequently, the incentive to create work schedules that cover those peaks only. These are the split shifts. You work in the morning and evening only, going somewhere else in between if you can. The time between your first punch-in in the morning and the last punch-out in the evening is the “spread time.” With unlimited spread time, split shifts could start anywhere from 4:40 am and end at 11:30 pm. Most transit agencies across the country restrict the abuse of spread time by setting a maximum shift of 10.5 to 12.5 hours.

CCTA’s push has been to cut out this spread time restriction by covering the morning and afternoon bits of work by part time drivers. This fits in well with corporate interests elsewhere that seek to push full-time labor with livable income and benefits out in exchange for lower wage workers with no benefits. It also dovetails nicely with union busting so that these same workers can be treated as at-will workers.

PREDATION MANAGEMENT: What it involves at CCTA

Where CCTA has had to deal with drivers and their union that refuse to be manhandled, CCTA has tried to increase its ability to discipline and terminate drivers that it sees as problems. This has been developed into a form of social darwinism that involves weeding out the “worst” drivers through what CCTA management itself calls “risk management.” With a team of expert predators, CCTA has managed to keep drivers in a constant state of fear over when and where they will be disciplined, most often for ridiculously small matters. The operations managers set up surveillance, stalking, and anonymous complaints to create lists of infractions which they are allowed to jump all over when they see fit. The only protection the driver has is the grievance process — and this is treated with disregard by CCTA and has become toothless.

When long work days, scattered scheduling, and missed breaks are combined with a constant state of fear of being disciplined, you can begin to see why the drivers went to strike over safety. CCTA pushed the contract as far as they could to solidify long hours and make predation easier. Although hours and discipline in transit are common across the nation, CCTA has stepped up its commitment to usurping the drivers voice in its strategy in the bargaining process itself.

PROCESS: How is it bargained

Here is a list of the roles played by some kind of legal professional in support of CCTA management’s strategies:

(1) CCTA hired a lawyer from the start to be part of its bargaining team. As of around the time of the strike, CCTA paid out about $20,000 in legal fees — tax payer money;

(2) a federal mediator, paid with federal tax dollars, was part of a large number of bargaining sessions depriving both sides of face-to-face discussion.;

(3) with an impasse (apparently the mediators failed), the mediation and fact-finding led to an inane “fact-finders report” at the cost of over $12,000 shared by the union and by tax dollars. This expense was later used by management to bash the drivers in public);

(4) federal mediators were again called in an attempt to avoid the strike and several times during the strike. Mediation did not bring the drivers back to work. The strike and the pressure it caused did.

The role of all of these various forms of law dogs was to intimidate the drivers in bargaining, retain some threat of legal action, and to stonewall bargaining by nitpicking and creating loop holes in the contract. This went on with the threat of binding arbitration, the threat that VTrans would step in with legal action, or that the State would force the drivers back to work by an injunction from the lawyer. In the end, even most members of the CCTA Board got involved by signing a resolution to hire temporary drivers (scabs) if the strike continued.

As part of corporate efforts to deprive the workers of their voice, this is becoming common: the lawyerization of bargaining, threats of injunctions and other such procedures that redirect discourse away from bargaining the issues. In the end, it is also a form of union busting and often ends up with contracts crammed down the throats of workers. It is also another variation on the theme of predation.

PREDATION MANAGEMENT: The Dumbing Down of the Discourse

CCTA used its website and media interviews to push one of the “fact-finders” claims that CCTA drivers are the second highest paid in northern New England. The bargaining is really about wages, says the media. The drivers get paid well, so they should enjoy working long hours and being disrespected. Anybody with a little sense could refute this.

But it had the effect that CCTA wanted it to have and this played into their ability to posit this gem into the public domain. In a commentary on the CCTA Facebook page March 17, 2014:

“What’s wrong with these drivers? … I say fire all of you and hire new employees. … U should be on your knees thanking god you have a job”

Predatory management in a nutshell, only this time, inviting the public to be part of the abuse. Why is this important? I suggest two ways. On the one hand, it clarifies the nature of public discourse today. As the field from which communal action and social movements appear, it provides a means to locate oneself on that field. Where the corporate model dominates the field of public discourse, you find the kind of sloganeering trivialities that were the fertile ground of fascism. The dumbing down of discourse rejects rational dialogue and communal action.

On the other hand, it is important since it reflects one of the most amazing gains the drivers made through the strike. The ultimate success of the strike was in the stories. These are the stories that you can only hear if those in pain are amongst you and you listen. The drivers have shown a way to block out the hate speech and recover their sense of humanity. The stories have shown the open wounds in how CCTA is managed. The stories have given the community the reason to sign a petition that CCTA management has got to go. The stories gave strength to the drivers to sign a Vote of No Confidence in CCTA management and demand that it be replaced.

Sharing the pain and creating community supplies the power to regain the discourse from the establishment and the means to fight back.

Charles W. Norris-Brown, raised in the hills of Pennsylvania, PhD, sometimes bus driver, sometimes researcher, often deeply thinking about the state of society and our lives in it, lives in Burlington, VT with his wife Charlotte.