“No contract, no vote,” Rapid leadership clashes with ATU over contract negotiations

Tensions have recently risen between the Interurban Transit Partnership (also known as The Rapid) and Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) 836, a union representing most of the bus drivers for the Rapid. After two years of operating without a union contract, the Rapid remains unable to successfully negotiate a new contract with ATU 836.

Though the conflict has been brewing for some time, it boiled over starting this July, when nearly a dozen protesters from ATU protested a Rapid news conference for the launch of a new fleet of compressed natural gas (CNG) buses.The protest, according to ATU member Louis Dushane, was a “warning to the Rapid.” Louis went on to indicate that, “if they don’t give us a fair contract, we’re going to organize against their millage that they want to pass this fall.” Though Rapid leadership was quick to downplay the incident and the conflict, ATU members remain dissatisfied.

After members of the ATU voted not to ratify the Rapid’s proposed contract on August 27, Rapid CEO Peter Varga claimed they were committed to reaching an agreement, despite two years of negotiations ending with another failure. ATU 836 President Richard Jackson noted that 65% of eligible union members voted against the agreement, a devastating indictment of the inability of the Rapid to come to terms with the union.

With the mantra “No Contract, No Vote,” many union members are repeatedly and rightfully expressing their dissatisfaction with Rapid leadership. Protests have been heating up since the rejection of the contract in August, including an incident where union member Louis DeShane was arrested at a Rapid board meeting. “For being at a legal protest, I would say I was not treated right,” DeShane said. “I’m at a legal protest and being taken away by the police – it seems a little facist by The Rapid.” Most recently, union members were shouted out of a Grand Rapids city commission meeting during another protest against the Rapid.

During that protest, Democratic candidate for the 77th district seat in the State House, Robert Van Kirk, summed up the conflict succinctly: “I’m for public transit; public transit is essential – especially if we want to have good living conditions, good working conditions in the metro Grand Rapids area. We cannot have one without the other. You have to have good public transit and you have to have working conditions that are good and pay that is equitable.”

The Rapid bus service is broken and needs reform – for bus drivers, mechanics, and riders. The Kent County Taxpayers Alliance urges a “No” vote on November 7.