Growing and strengthening west Michigan's middle class
GRAND RAPIDS August 28, 2015– More than 100 union members and supporters crowded into the meeting space at the Rapid Central Station on Wednesday as the Interurban Transportation Partnership Board convened for their monthly meeting. The Board was expected to vote on whether to extend the contract for ATU Local 836 and allow negotiations with the company to continue. As of Friday afternoon-
– three days after the meeting, and with about 24 hours until the current contract is set to expire– local leaders still have no idea whether their contract’s been extended. the ITP board has announced that it will extend the union’s contract until Monday night and meet with union negotiators one more time on Monday.
The union and management have been at a stalemate in their bargaining, as the company is intent upon eliminating the employees’ pension and converting their retirement plan into an investment fund similar to a 401k.
A number of people spoke in support of the drivers during public comments, including Grand Rapids Board of Education member Dr. José A. Flores, who reminded board members that these drivers represent a major segment of our local economy and by taking away their retirement security, it will damage Grand Rapids’ economic growth.
“Please do not take their pensions,” Flores said. “They represent our economy.”
He also warned against breaking the union by imposing conditions against the workers’ will.
“You won’t save some dollars by destroying the union,” Flores said to the board. “Don’t become another Scott Walker. These people work hard, so put yourselves in their shoes. Come out of your executive roles and try doing the work. You have no idea what it’s like working in the trenches.”
After the board went into executive session at Wednesday’s board meeting to discuss negotiations, they returned with no word on whether they voted to extend the union’s contract. They did, however, announce that they were giving CEO Varga a $4,000 per year pay raise, and that fares for riders would go up this fall.
Then on Thursday, the board sent local leaders a letter warning them to accept an agreement with or face having management’s working conditions imposed regardless.
Late Friday afternoon, Local 836 posted on their Facebook page:
Big news, brothers and sisters: The ITP just agreed to meet with us again on Monday and to extend the contract through midnight Monday evening!
This isn’t the end of the fight, but it’s another small victory in our campaign for a fairer contract and fairer city.