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Grand Rapids Transit Workers Continue the Fight, Despite Intimidation Tactics

December 1, 2015

This is a follow up article to the one I wrote for In These Times in late October, Michigan Transit Workers Fight To Prevent City Bus System From Eliminating Their Pensions

It was a cold afternoon in downtown Grand Rapids and members of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATUGR) Local 836 and a few supporters were standing outside of The Rapid facility.2015-10-17 12.12.54

The conversation was lively, with union members discussing tactics and strategies on how to deal with the ongoing threats to their pensions from The Rapid board members. Around 2pm, the ATUGR was in a meeting with people from The Rapid. Here is what rank and file member of Local 836m Louis DeShane, had to say about what happened.

We were in negotiations today and the ATU wanted to give The Rapid a proposal. They (The Rapid) did not want to listen to it and they just walked out of the negotiations.When I asked Louis why he thought that The Rapid chose to walk out of the negotiations today, he replied, “They keep saying they want to negotiate, but every time we propose something, they want nothing to do with it.”

This has been a pattern for months now, where the ATUGR has attempted to negotiate in good faith, but The Rapid leadership has refused to meet with the union or compromise on their proposal to alter the bus driver’s pension plan, which the ATUGR says would negatively impact workers, some of whom have been driving for the Grand Rapids transit system for over 20 years.

As we continue to talk outside the north end of The Rapid facility, bus drivers come and go during shift changes and stop by to shake hands and offer up encouraging words to the union members standing outside.

Inside, other members of the ATUGR were meeting to discuss other strategies, which included a response to The Rapid walk out during the meeting on Monday.

Some allies also joined the small rally outside The Rapid facility. There was a member of the Grand Rapids Federation of Musicians, which is also faced with a standstill in contract negotiations with the Grand Rapids Symphony.

Along with the local musicians union, a member of the GVSU United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) also came to show solidarity with the Grand Rapids bus drivers union. The GVSU chapter of USAS has been the most consistent in their support of the ATUGR and had recently participated in an action during a Grand Rapids City Commission meeting to confront that elected body on their unwillingness to truly negotiate.Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 12.15.56 AM

In addition to The Rapid’s failure to negotiate, they continue to intimidate workers who are pressing the issue. As we reported for the In These Times article, workers who were leafletting at the bus station on their own time were threatened with arrest by The Rapid. Now The Rapid is trying to limit what workers can say while on the job, especially when communicating with fellow workers about their campaign.

According to a message from Todd Brogan, with the national Amalgamated Transit Union, The Rapid issued a new Social Media policy that workers say is meant to silence dissent online and violates their Constitutional rights.

Some excerpts from The Rapid Social Media policy are as follows:

1. “Before creating content, consider some of the risks and rewards that are involved. Keep in mind that any of your conduct that adversely affects…people who work on behalf of The Rapid or The Rapid’s legitimate business interests may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.”

2. “Employees are prohibited from using social media to distribute…false or misleading statements about The Rapid or its personnel…”12265883_10153737067981737_7309855162669876410_o

ATU Local 836 President RiChard Jackson responded to this latest attempt to silence workers by stating, “Given their recent history, the obvious intention is to scare employees into silence, because there is no way to know what is safe to say.”

Despite these anti-worker tactics by The Rapid, the momentum is building for union members and allies. In fact, there is an event this coming Sunday (Dec. 6) where union members and allies will gather to show solidarity, to share information, news ideas for the campaign and to enjoy live music and food at what the promotional material is calling a Labor Revival Night.

When we’re united, working families have more power than they realize. This Sunday, December 6 at 3pm, at the Kent-Ionia Labor Center, we’ll be holding an old fashioned Labor Revival.

Sounds like a perfect opportunity for people to support the ATUGR campaign and even be part of building a larger worker movement in West Michigan.

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