Valley Post May 27, 2021
by Eesha Williams Tags:
Before Covid there were 130 workers at the company that runs vans for handicapped people, under contract to PVTA, the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority. “Now we have 88. We’ll get back to 130 when Covid is over,” Jeanie Steel predicted in a May 22 voice phone interview with the Valley Post. For 21 years, she has been a driver for the various companies PVTA has hired to run the so-called para-transit service. She still drives for the latest company, National Express. Steel was one of the leaders of a successful recent effort to form a union. “I made it a career goal for the past 10 to 12 years to unionize this body,” she said. “When we won I felt ecstatic. It was a long, hard process. The company was union busting.”
A new company will take over from National Express in July. “Our union will still exist after that,” Steel said. “PVTA drivers have been union since the late 1980s. It was our turn. National Express made lots of promises that were not fulfilled. For example, better wages. There was a lot of favoritism. Seniority didn’t matter in promotions.”
Of the 88 workers, all but four work 40 hours a week. The four work less than 40 hours. The 88 workers live in Springfield, Holyoke, or nearby towns. Springfield is home to 154,000 people, 69 percent of whom are people of color. Holyoke is home to 40,000 people, 56 percent of whom are people of color.
The workers ratified their first union contract on February 25, 2021. Until now, there has been no media coverage of the first contract, Steel said.
Before the union, new workers made $12.50 an hour. Now they make $14.50 for the first 90 days on the job. Then they make $15 an hour.
For people who have worked between five and 10 years, pay is now $16.50 an hour, up from $13.50 before the union.
For people who have worked between 10 and 12 years, pay is now $17.50 an hour, up from $13.80 before the union.
For people who have worked 13 or more years, pay is now $18.50 an hour, up from $14.01 before the union.
In the USA, union workers make an average of $191 more per week, compared to workers who don’t have a union. Reducing inequality is good for democracy, since billionaires buy politicians. In the Valley, all UPS and Stop and Shop workers belong to a union. That means billionaires make less money and workers make more.
Hundreds of workers at the Brattleboro Retreat mental hospital are union members. So are workers at hospitals in Greenfield, Northampton and Springfield; and at the food co-ops in Northampton, Greenfield, and Brattleboro.