Hundreds of drivers for The Ride, employed by Veterans Transportation Service (VTS) that is based on Air Force Road, took to the streets on Monday to go on strike and demand better health insurance and fair pay – especially after having worked as drivers throughout the COVID-19 lockdown.
Workers and their union, Teamsters Local 25, showed up in large numbers this week on Air Force Road to show their displeasure with contract negotiations, while putting a damper on folks needing to use The Ride.
“I’m out here showing support for all of us who drive for Veterans Transportation,” said Flavio Gomes on Monday evening. “There is a disagreement with health care insurance. It comes down to fairness. I’m out to show my support.”
Members of Teamsters Local 25 employed at Veterans Transportation, which provides paratransit for the MBTA THE RIDE voted unanimously to reject the company’s final contract offer and go on strike immediately last Sunday. A total of 350 essential workers who have worked throughout the COVID-19 pandemic are striking over the company’s demands for significant health insurance increases. These drivers have been on the job during the entire pandemic providing door-to-door transportation for people who cannot use public transit because of physical, cognitive or mental disabilities.
Teamsters Local 25 members are walking the picket lines outside Veterans Transportation 24 hours, 7 days per week.
“Veterans Transportation is a highly profitable company denying its own workers affordable health insurance during a global pandemic,” said Teamsters Local 25 President Sean M. O’Brien. “These men and women are essential workers who have put themselves and their families at risk providing essential services during this time. Our members at Veterans Transportation can be assured we will fight for them and will not rest until they receive a fair contract.”
In a statement on Monday, the MBTA said VTS is one of two providers of paratransit service provided to the MBTA. Because of the labor dispute and the strike, the MBTA said customers could expect delays and/or service interruption due to the lack of drivers.
“The MBTA is advising customers to only schedule essential trips because drivers are limited,” read the statement. “Customers are asked to consider alternative transport options, such as a local taxi, Uber, or Lyft. If a customer is having a medical emergency, please contact 911. Customers have the option to cancel or rebook their trips by contacting The RIDE call center at 844-427-7433.
“The MBTA strongly urges Teamsters Local 25 and Veterans Transportation to continue negotiating,” continued the statement. “It is the MBTA’s hope that this situation resolves soon. The MBTA is committed to providing this essential service to our most at-risk, vulnerable customers.”
Many of the drivers on site Monday were part of VTS, but others had just transitioned from GLSS into the Local 25 and were showing support.
“Our spirits are high because we love what we do and support all the drivers,” said Mark Gendreau. “We love our jobs.”
Said Susan Sutton, “What we’re hoping for are equitable and fair pay and benefits for everyone. We all worked through the pandemic. We were here every day.”
VTS wasn’t immediately available for comment on the matter. Teamsters Local 25 is New England’s largest Teamsters union with more than 12,000 members.