July 20 — Some 350 paratransit drivers in Boston celebrated their victory last night after waging a 100% solid, weeklong strike against Veterans Transportation. The local taxi boss, their profitable new employer, is a notorious union buster.
Veterans Transportation recently underbid another private outfit for a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s contract for The Ride, which provides door-to-door service for disabled and elder passengers. They then came at the multinational, predominantly Haitian workforce with a list of wage and benefit concessions. Most disgusting and potentially deadly was the company’s and its government client’s demand that these workers, deemed “essential” by local government during the COVID-19 pandemic, pay substantially more out-of-pocket for their families’ health insurance. They also tried to deny wage increases, substituting a one-time bonus with impossible strings attached, and balked at the union’s pandemic-related health and safety concerns. These were the final insults these Teamster Local 25 members unanimously rejected. On July 10, they hit the bricks 24/7.
The strikers made headlines and allies during their weeklong shutdown as many other unions, politicians and community leaders, including disabled activists, picketed bus yards in Boston suburbs of Everett, Waltham and Watertown.
Passengers who depend on The Ride have suffered deteriorating service and infuriating delays in recent years, as the state’s bipartisan administration took a budget axe to the essential service. During the strike, professional union drivers and MBTA vehicles were replaced with vouchers for app companies Uber and Lyft, whose drivers under current law have zero worker rights or benefits.
The spirit on the strike lines was fighting mad, as well as inspiring and uplifting, with blaring Caribbean music, barbecue and the Local 25 tractor-trailer soundstage bringing major resources, including personal protective equipment, to the picket lines daily.
In a statement issued from Local 25’s parking lot in Charlestown, where physically distanced members ratified the new contract July 19 by over 90%, President Sean M. O’Brien spotlighted “significant health insurance increases.”
“Our members at Veterans Transportation are heroes who have put themselves and their families at risk during the pandemic, providing transit services for our most at-risk citizens,” O’Brien said in a media statement. “Teamsters Local 25 is proud to represent the MBTA [the Ride] drivers and will never stop fighting to make sure our members are treated with dignity and respect and receive fair wages, affordable health insurance and a safe working environment.”
Teamsters Local 25 has also moved the workers’ struggle forward on the legal front in recent weeks. State legislators and the attorney general have been forced, by the labor movement and the pandemic’s resulting economic crisis of mass unemployment, to move bills and initiate lawsuits recognizing gig drivers as workers. These bills will mean rights to unemployment insurance, health benefits, minimum wage protections and to organize a union, as opposed to Wall- Street-sponsored, fake “independent contractors.”
In Public Service Announcements during the strike, the MBTA urged The Ride passengers to cancel appointments or use Uber/Lyft. Its transparent, ill-advised and ultimately futile attempt to break the strike by running a nonunion, substandard, failure-of-a-scab operation behind the scenes earned local government nothing but hatred from the communities served and from the labor movement.
Gillis serves on the Executive Board of USW Local 8751 —the Boston School Bus Drivers Union.