Growing and strengthening west Michigan's middle class
GRAND RAPIDS August 21, 2015–Bus drivers with The Rapid are currently in the eleventh hour of negotiations with their employer, and management has made it clear that they are now interested in operating primarily as a dictatorship. Click here to send a message to management, letting them know you stand strong with these hardworking transit employees and oppose any attempts to erode Grand Rapids’ middle class.
Management at the Interurban Transit Partnership (ITP)– commonly known as The Rapid– has let ATU Local 836 leadership know that they are intent on terminating the workers’ pension, along with eliminating their grievance procedure and taking away automatic dues collection, by refusing to budge in contract negotiations. Workers are currently operating with a contract extension that expires on August 29.
In the past week, Local 836 leadership has been organizing informational pickets, membership has leafleted area residents, they’ve led a march to city hall, and union leadership has spoken before the city commission.
The Kent-Ionia Labor Council received this update from ATU Local 836 President RiChard Jackson today:
Things have gotten pretty intense here in Grand Rapids. The Rapid is attempting to unilaterally terminate the pension, dues collection, and the grievance process. We have one chance to get an extension on bargaining. On August 26th the [ITP] Board of Directors will vote if we are granted that extension. If we get that extension, the company has offered a day to bargain on August 31st. If we don’t, the company is forcing total control on August 29th.
We have one chance and we need as much help as possible. Any political pull you can help with would be great. I can’t stress enough about how extreme the company has gone. They have acted with zero respect to the people who work for them.
At the same time, they have threatened to arrest union representatives for trying to tell members about what’s going on. Just last night they called the police on another organizer and me for standing outside and handing out leaflets for the emergency meeting. The property is public, The Rapid is funded through state and local taxes.
On August 17, International Vice Presidents from the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Local 836 executive board and union attorney Joe Burns sat down with ITP management, alongside a state mediator. The negotiations lasted three days. The union offered a proposal that would maintain the employees’ defined benefit pension plan. Management refused the offer.
The union then requested another short contract extension in an effort to reach an agreement as quickly as possible. ITP management said they couldn’t extend the contract without approval from their board, which next meets this Wednesday, August 26. Should the board not agree to an extension, ITP management will unilaterally impose their cuts on August 29.
Local 836 is holding an emergency meeting on Sunday at the Kent-Ionia Labor Center to strategize and organize.
“Grand Rapids’ hardworking bus drivers deserve a decent living, safe working conditions, and the chance to retire with dignity,” said Ron Bieber, President of the Michigan AFL-CIO. “It’s great to see Grand Rapids is doing better, but with 26 percent of the city’s residents living below the poverty line, we can’t afford to let it become a place where all of the gains go to the folks at the top, while working families are forced to keep paying more and more.
“At a salary of $200,000 per year, Mr. Varga makes $41,000 more than Governor Snyder. Now he wants bus drivers who keep the city moving to give up their retirement security? That’s just not right. It’s time for Varga to stop the political games, and focus on making Grand Rapids a place that creates opportunity for all. He can make it happen by reaching a fair contract with members of ATU Local 836.”