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CTA transit workers stuck with mediocre contract

Commentary by Eric Struch |
February 28, 2018
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Members of ATU on picket line.
Members of ATU on picket line. (Fight Back! News/staff)

Chicago, IL - Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has a pro-capitalist, neoliberal agenda and it's no secret that his priority in this city are the wealthy residents of posh lakefront neighborhoods like the Gold Coast, Lincoln Park and Lakeview. He works for the banks and the multi-billion-dollar corporations like Boeing, who are getting fat off of government welfare that comes out of our pockets. Rahm never met a racist, killer cop he didn't love. He going to have a tough time getting re-elected, and his only real competition right now is the reactionary ex-top cop Garry McCarthy, so he wants smooth sailing and no problems from struggling Chicago Transit Authority workers or militant Chicago Public School teachers.

Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) President Dorval Carter did Rahm a real solid by ramming through a new contract with Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) bus operators Local 241 and rail operations Local 308. ATU Locals 241 and 308 have been without a contract for over two years. Sometimes the corporate-controlled media lets a little truth slip through, as when Chicago Sun-Times writer Fran Spielman said, "labor peace is now locked in at the CTA through the 2019 mayoral and aldermanic election." (Sun-Times, 2/14/18)

Significant pressure by city hall was brought to bear on the ATU Local 241 administrations of President Keith Hill and 308 President Kenneth Franklin to go ahead with a mediocre contract that failed to win anything significant for the membership. The gun of interest arbitration was pointed at the heads of the locals’ membership when they voted for the contract. The arbitrator was Philadelphia lawyer Ralph Colflesh, whose last accomplishment was getting six racist, drug-dealing Philly cops off after they were fired for RICO conspiracy and civil rights violations (, Joel Mathis, 7/15/15). ATU Local 308 President Franklin understands that "CTA's got money. The money doesn't dry up. The money doesn't disappear. It's all a matter of where the money's going to be moved." (Spielman, Sun-Times)

CTA, whose bonds are performing exceptionally well while it is engaged in defrauding the federal government by artificially inflating ridership numbers, has used the two-year period where both ATU locals were without a contract to engage in a campaign of rolling takebacks. 241's President Keith Hill is proud of the fact the fact that the new contract freezes healthcare contributions for the life of the agreement, which expires on Dec. 31, 2019, and that it provides much-needed relief to the membership. That said, the health insurance premiums went up three times in the past two years, and the rank and file is stuck with the inferior Cigna coverage that was imposed by former CTA president and Rahm buddy Forrest Claypool.

Claypool seems to have a very special relationship to Cigna. He forced Chicago Public Schools teachers to accept that garbage coverage too, after his tenure at CTA was over. Most of the takebacks that CTA workers have had to swallow have come from previous contracts that were imposed through arbitration or rolled out in the two years where there was no contract, so many voted "yes" to avoid the obvious risks that going back to arbitration carried. Very few people seemed to be genuinely enthusiastic about the deal, though.

There is also dissatisfaction with the Hill administration, and a sense of wasted opportunities. A rank-and-file 241 oppositional newsletter called Finally Got the News has published several issues this year, and operators at Chicago garage are saying things like, "...if we would've went on strike, we would've gotten everything we wanted!" Many CTA workers are in a fighting mood - they just need a leadership that is willing to give voice and organizational strength to that sentiment.

Eric Struch is a rank-and-file member of ATU Local 241.