Lowell, Mass. is known as the cradle of the industrial revolution because its mills and factories were some of the first of the United States. Almost 200 years after the city forever changed American history, Lowell workers continue to fight and win, this time at the largest privately owned transit contractor in the United States.
“Local 170 MV members stood together and stood strong,” said Shannon George, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 170 in Worcester, Mass. “They should be proud of the solidarity they showed to gain the improvements they deserved. Workers everywhere should take note of what can be achieved when we act together, act smart and take on corporate America.”
MV Transportation is the contractor for the Road Runner, a paratransit service for elderly and disabled residents of Lowell and the surrounding communities. Most of Road Runner’s passengers rely on the service as the only way that they can get to appointments, errands, or anywhere else that they need to go.
Elderly residents and those with chronic illnesses have been struck particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, making the essential service workers employed by MV Transportation more essential than ever.
It was a slap in the face when the company balked at wage and benefit increases during contract negotiations for this reason. The decision to strike was probably the last thing that the workers wanted to do, but Local 170 Business Agent Ken Bergen indicated that the company left them little recourse.
Taking a Stand
“The drivers care about the job they do,” Bergen said. “They have relationships with the passengers they transport and they are torn about having to take a stand like this because of the ill effects it has on those passengers and friends, but they also have to provide for their families.”
Even though walking off the job was probably the last thing MV Transportation workers wanted to do, they had plenty of reason to believe it would work.
Over 300 members of Local 25 in Boston work for Veterans Transportation, the paratransit contractor for The Ride. The Ride provides the same service in the nearby Greater Boston area, and as such is one of the largest paratransit services in the Northeast.
Last July, Local 25 members employed by Veterans Transportation secured a massive contract victory after walking off the job and striking for eight days. On October 5, with momentum on their side and the winds of change at their backs, MV Transportation workers in Lowell did the exact same thing and started a picket line.
Road Runner employs less than 20 Teamsters, but there were times when if you walked by the terminal where the workers were demonstrating, you would have been forgiven for thinking the paratransit service employs a small army.
Members from all over New England came to support their brothers and sisters at the MV Transportation picket line. One day a Teamster truck caravan paraded by the picket line, blaring their horns in support of the members.
Even Lowell Mayor John Leahy expressed sympathy for the drivers.
“The impact of this halt to services demonstrates the value of the work that paratransit drivers provide to our community every day, and I believe they should be fairly compensated and benefited for it,” he said.
After an 11-day strike where members were walking the picket line 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the company agreed to go back to the bargaining table.
The workers ratified a three-year agreement with: significant wage and benefit increases; company contributions toward retirement; wage increases of $1.25 per hour in the first year and 3 percent in the second and third years; an increased starting rate for all members; a 40-hour per-week guarantee and more.
MV Transportation driver Christine Patterson said that her fellow Teamsters, along with others who walked the picket line with her, were essential to the victory.
“As one of the drivers I would like to thank each and every person who stood together with us for the last 11 days,” Patterson said. “We couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you!”