- Associated Press - Thursday, April 3, 2014

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - A nearly three-week-long bus drivers’ strike in the state’s largest county has ended with the approval of a new contract - and a promise of free rides on Friday.

The Chittenden County Transportation Authority board ratified the contract Thursday evening. The bus drivers had overwhelmingly approved the deal earlier in the day.

The strike, which began March 17, was the first in the 40-year history of the CCTA, whose buses carry about 9,700 people a day, including about 2,400 Burlington public school students. The two sides had haggled over wages, disciplinary action from anonymous tips, part-time drivers and split shifts.

Gov. Peter Shumlin and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, who had called for a settlement to the strike, commended both sides for finding common ground so the buses could run again.

“I know that it took hard work and compromise to get to this agreement,” Shumlin said. “These past few weeks have been very challenging for the Vermonters who count on CCTA every day to get to appointments, to work and to school.”

Weinberger thanked Shumlin, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and the Burlington City Council for their efforts to help resolve the dispute.

“It is a great relief for the community that our buses will be rolling again tomorrow morning,” he said. “The end of the strike is welcome news for our schoolchildren, families, patients and neighboring community members, who have suffered these past three weeks.”

University of Vermont sophomore Brad Day, who relies on the bus system to get to campus for early classes and in the winter, said he had been walking about 20 minutes to campus during the strike.

“I’m glad it’s over,” he said.

Weinberger said he looked forward to working to ensure that the CCTA workplace culture improves.

Bus driver Rob Slingerland said the contract meets the drivers’ core concerns.

“We won this fair contract because of our unity and the tremendous support from our community,” he said. “This strike was hard on us and on the community. There was a great deal of self-sacrifice from many people.”

A celebration was planned in downtown Burlington on Friday evening. Fare-free service will run through April 13.

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