(Owen O'Rourke)
Local Government and Politics, News

LYNN: RIDE drivers threaten to strike if GLSS doesn’t provide “fair” contract, wages

LYNN — Union drivers who provide services for The RIDE, an option for people whose disability prevents them from using other public transit, are threatening to go on strike if a "fair" contract can't be reached with Greater Lynn Senior Services on Wednesday.

Greater Lynn Senior Services (GLSS) is one of three vendors contracted by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) that provides drivers for The RIDE, which transports many seniors and others with disabilities to essential services such as grocery stores and doctors' offices.

But according to the union that represents GLSS, International Brotherhood of Teamsters 42 (IBT42), their drivers are the lowest paid of the three vendors.

Drivers for GLSS often start at minimum wage, which increased from $11 to $12 an hour this month, while the drivers for the other two vendors, Veterans Transportation and National Express, are hired at $14.50 to $15.50, according to Ryan Eaton, IBT42 secretary treasurer and business agent.

The reason for the pay discrepancy, Eaton said, is unions negotiate contracts with their individual vendors for the RIDE, rather than with the MBTA.

"We're looking for a fair deal for our guys and girls," Eaton said. "They deserve to be paid equal (to the other vendors). They deserve to have their safety guaranteed and we think they deserve to have their financial future secured. They provide such an invaluable service to the community. We feel they should be treated as such. It's time for the company to take care of their employees."

In addition to higher wages, Eaton said the union, which represents approximately 270 GLSS drivers, is looking for a pension plan and safety improvements for drivers.

Currently, if a driver were to report a safety concern with a vehicle, GLSS has the right to tell the driver to take it out on the road. This makes the driver liable, or at fault, if an accident were to occur. The union is looking to make sure there's accountability on the company's part if any safety issues occur, according to Eaton.

A GLSS RIDE driver who asked to remain anonymous said he wanted fair treatment as far as getting the same wages as other vendors, and was concerned that he could face disciplinary action if he chooses not to use an unsafe vehicle after being told to take it on the road by the company.

Paul Crowley, GLSS CEO, said in a statement GLSS is currently in negotiations with Teamsters Local 42 around a new collective bargaining agreement. He said the current contract is in effect until midnight on Jan. 31.

"We have had multiple and productive bargaining sessions and have another one (on Wednesday)," Crowley said. "GLSS drivers help seniors and people with disabilities to remain mobile and in the community. They work tirelessly for the people we serve. They have been and continue to be the lifeblood of our organization. They deserve a fair and equitable contract and we want to give them that.

"We have presented a very generous package to the union leadership to bring back to its members. Out of fairness to the drivers, we will not talk specifics of the negotiations in the press."

Contract negotiations have been underway since October. Eaton said union membership unanimously rejected an unofficial offer from GLSS over the weekend and membership voted to go on strike.

If the union and GLSS can't come to an agreement during Wednesday's session, membership would take another vote. If the union votes again to strike, the walk-out would tentatively begin on Friday.

"Our hope is by the end of the day (Wednesday), we'll have a contract," Eaton said. "We don't want our members on the street. We want them making money, but we want them with a fair contract as well."

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