BANGOR, Maine — Drivers of Bangor’s public bus system voted this month to unionize.
The 33 workers who drive buses for the Community Connector voted to join the Amalgamated Transit Union, which already represents approximately 100 bus drivers in Portland who work at the Portland Metro, according to a news release from the Maine AFL-CIO.
The city of Bangor, which operates the Community Connector, received official notice of the unionization from the Maine Labor Relations Board on Tuesday, according to Bob Farrar, Bangor’s assistant city manager and human resources director. Farrar said the bus drivers voted to unionize over the course of several weeks via a mail-in ballot system organized by the labor board.
“We certainly respect the decision of the employees to unionize,” Farrar said Thursday. “We have 11 other unions here in the city that we work very well with, so the unionization issue isn’t one that’s new to us.”
He said about 60 percent of the city’s 500 full-time employees belong to unions.
The last group of city employees to unionize was about a dozen customer service representatives and part-time ramp attendants at Bangor International Airport, Farrar said. That happened roughly four years ago, he said.
When asked if the city experienced increased costs in the past as a result of its employees unionizing, Farrar said he wasn’t prepared to answer the question without researching the issue.
While Bangor operates the Community Connector, it also serves the communities of Brewer, Hampden, Veazie, Orono, Old Town and the University of Maine. All communities contribute funds to operate the public transportation system, Farrar said.
Ed Kalish of Brewer, a driver for Community Connector, said he was excited to have representation and a voice on the job.
“It is my hope that a new union for Bangor transit drivers will provide us with a much-needed voice for driver concerns,” Kalish said in a statement provided by the Maine AFL-CIO. “It will enable us to sit down together with the city of Bangor and find many ways to improve our performance as drivers and provide even better service to the many thousands who use the bus system,”
The Community Connector drivers, now members of ATU local 714, will meet soon to begin the process of negotiating their first contract with the city, the release said. As of Thursday, Farrar said the city hasn’t been contacted by the union to begin the negotiating process.
“We applaud these workers in Bangor for organizing and standing up for a voice on the job and better transportation services for everyone,” Don Berry, president of the Maine AFL-CIO, said in a statement. “We are committed to supporting workers across the state who want to collectively bargain for higher wages, better working conditions, and the dignity that comes with union representation.”
The ATU was founded in 1892, and with 190,000 members in 44 U.S. states and nine Canadian provinces, it is the largest labor union representing transit workers in North America, according to its website.