As Chicago Transit Authority president Dorval Carter continues the undeclared war against bus operators, train operators and mechanics that his predecessor Forrest Claypool started, Amalgamated Transit Union Locals 241 and 308 have begun to unite to fight back. According to a statement from the unions, "ATU Locals 241 and 308 represent the vast majority of CTA employees (almost 10,000), working without a contract since December 2015. The CTA refuses to take the vast majority of its workforce seriously. It wants to strip them of their hard-earned benefits and deny them wage increases. The CTA wants to continue with the insults and abuses."
The fightback took things to a new level when Local 241 staged a daylong series of demonstrations on Dec. 21 in multiple locations around the city, including in front of CTA headquarters on Lake Street and at the busy 95th Street Red Line El terminal on the south side. Hundreds of Local 241 members turned out to each location to step up the struggle for a decent contract. Several weeks ago, an historic joint meeting of the executive boards of Locals 241 and 308 took place. Both locals united to organize a powerful demonstration on Jan. 16 in front of Mount Pisgah Baptist on the south side neighborhood of Bronzeville to honor Dr. King and advance the struggle for the contract.
This reporter, a Local 241 member and full-time bus operator for CTA, had the opportunity to interview several co-workers on their thoughts on the contract negotiations.
Fight Back!: What are the biggest issues for you as a bus operator that you feel need to be addressed in the contract negotiations?
Terrance Tolbert, Chicago garage: The 18% rise in health insurance premiums along with more out-of-pocket and increased deductibles concerns me. Our paychecks are being squeezed every year. If we can save money by going to Blue Cross/Blue Shield [instead of the Cigna plan that was forced upon CTA employees by Forrest Claypool], I'm all for it. Also, the lack of layover time in the terminals and poor bathroom conditions need to be addressed. Operators don't have enough time to use the bathroom during their routes.
Marc Greenwood, Chicago garage: Safety for the operators. For example, making nighttime reliefs and during fallbacks [breaks] at night. CTA should provide a clean and safe environment for personals [short breaks] in the terminals, as well as providing better health and wellness programs.
BrenAda Williams, Chicago garage: We need better coverage with a lower co-pay. We also need more layover time in the terminals, which is conducive to all operators, especially for women and the disabled, to have an adequate personal. We need bonuses of more than $1000, especially if we don't receive back pay. In addition, CTA needs to increase sick pay from the first week of full pay to the first two weeks of full pay. They also need to eliminate the 12-hour work day so operators can get adequate rest.
Fight Back!: What do you think would be the most effective strategy for 241 to pursue to ensure we get a fair contract? Do you feel the recent street demonstrations by Local 241 and 308 were a step in the right direction?
Tolbert: All union members need to get involved to show CTA that we are united and that we deserve better. The recent rallies are a good start to making CTA negotiate in good faith with some realistic proposals. The press coverage will get bigger each time. Management is taking notice.
Greenwood: I'm a firm believer in “it's the squeaky wheel that gets greased.” I feel we have to keep coming together as a whole and keep applying pressure and make ourselves heard. I definitely feel the demonstration was - and is, and will continue to be - a step in the right direction.
Williams: The demonstration was a good start.
Fight Back!: What sort of changes need to happen inside Local 241 and how do we go about making those happen?
Tolbert: Accurate information needs to be communicated to, and discussed with all members on a regular basis so that false rumors can be dispelled. All members need to get behind [ATU Local 241] President Sams and the negotiating team and put personal agendas on hold. Let's keep our eyes on the prize and not be distracted. If we stand together in these next few months, we can get a fair contract.
Greenwood: We need to continue to organize within our local  as well as our sister local . Part-timers, full-timers and maintenance need to come together to support our leadership and move forward. We can't move forward and accomplish anything if we're always fighting each other. We must come together and show strength in solidarity.