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ATU bus drivers protest Grand Rapids area transit board

By Tom Burke |
September 1, 2016
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ATU members and supporters protest Grand Rapids area transit board
ATU members and supporters protest Grand Rapids area transit board (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Grand Rapids, MI - 30 union bus drivers and their supporters rallied outside the meeting of the Interurban Transit Partnership - also known as the Rapids Board - the afternoon of Aug. 31, demanding a decent contract in negotiations. The board spent the past year attacking the bus drivers’ union and its leaders instead of dealing fairly with them.

As politicians from Grand Rapids and surrounding towns entered the meeting the pro-union crowd chanted, “What do we want? A contract! When do we want it? Now!”

The politicians fake-smiled and scurried into the building, with one bus driver yelling “Shame! Shame! Shame!” after them.

International Executive Vice President Javier Perez Jr., of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), spoke, “Why the struggle for a pension and health care is so critical? It’s not just about us. It’s about what happens to everybody that’s working in the city of Grand Rapids. Everybody should have a decent pension plan.”

Perez explained, “Our pension proposal will not cost the employer one penny more. It is that they want to break the pension plan. It is an ideological argument. It is a philosophical argument, that need not happen.”

In front of the transit board there was public commentary by ten or more bus drivers and their supporters. Grand Rapids ATU Recording Secretary Jodie Burns remarked, “I spent my day at negotiations with the Rapid. It was my first time doing this, and I was surprised by how little they wanted to talk to us.”

Burns continued, “We switched our health care plan in the last negotiations, giving them half a million in health care savings. Now they are proposing a plan that will cost drivers with families almost $800 per month!”

Student activists from United Students Against Sweatshops at Grand Valley State University spoke in solidarity. Months after a protest at a previous board meeting, Grand Rapids police were sent to intimidate and harass students and one worker at their homes.

Later in the meeting, the Rapids Board voted to give a 2% raise to administrators while refusing to budge in negotiations with its blue-collar work force.

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