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Union President Says Minneapolis Is Trying to Punish Transit Workers Who Wouldn’t Help the Police

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In late May, as Minneapolis and St. Paul erupted in protests against the police killing of 46-year-old Black man George Floyd, members of the Twin Cities’ Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1005 publicly refused to transport protesters to jail. “As a transit worker and union member, I refuse to transport my class and radical youth,” Minneapolis bus driver Adam Burch told the labor publication Payday Report, which first reported the refusals on May 28. “An injury to one is an injury to all,” said Burch.

ATU Local 1005 also issued a statement in solidarity with the protests on May 28. “This system has failed all of us in the working class from the Coronavirus to the economic crisis we are facing,” the union declared. “But this system has failed People of Color and Black Americans and black youth more than anyone else.”

The union’s public support for the uprisings, and some members’ public refusal to do work that helps the police, sparked praise and inspiration around the country. As the Black Lives Matter protests spread, so did transit workers’ refusal to assist in police crackdowns. In New York, bus drivers refused to transport people arrested at protests, as crowds cheered them on. “None of our bus ops should be used for that,” J.P. Patafio, vice president of New York’s Transport Workers Union Local 100, told Motherboard on May 29.

The impacts of the uprisings are already being felt, particularly in Minneapolis, where a veto-proof majority of city councilors pledged to disband the police department, under pressure from activists. In These Times spoke with Ryan Timlin, the president of ATU Local 1005, about the impact of the union’s actions on the lives of its members, and on the political climate. “It wasn’t just the bus drivers’ union, it was all the protests,” Timlin said. “Even though the military came in, the protesters kept marching forward.”

Sarah Lazare: Has your union faced retaliation for showing solidarity with the protests?

Ryan Timlin: We are working on a class-action grievance, because they cut the pay for those who refused to transport state troopers. MetroTransit said they’re not going to do mass-arrest bussing because of the petition we did, but they did do some transporting of state troopers. A lot of our low-seniority members got stuck doing that, and we reached out to them to make sure they understood the right to refuse. I don’t know an overall number, but some of them refused, mostly over the issue of safety. I’d put it at around a dozen who refused.

As a result of our petition, they stopped having bus drivers transport protesters. They went and got decommissioned metro and mobility buses, and some police ended up driving them.

Sarah: So the grievance was about being docked pay?

Ryan: Anybody who refused to do the work, they did not pay them. They paid them if they showed up and were there for three or four hours at the garage, they paid them for that work. But if they got called to do a run and they refused, their pay got cut: They used vacation time or sick time. The company said they weren’t going to pay people for not doing anything. Well they had sent 90% home and paid them to stay home. They forced the lower seniority transport state troopers. We filed the grievance and are going to collect the data about who is impacted. As soon as I got a phone call that someone got their pay cut, we got paperwork ready.

Sarah: Do you think your union’s actions had an impact?

Ryan: I hope it helped protesters. To be honest, I don’t know if it did. It clearly excited people, especially the letter of solidarity we wrote. We got so many phone calls, and we got a lot of thank yous. It was overwhelmingly supportive, just a few people called pissed off. We got lots of thank yous coming in—I wish we had kept a better list. I remember I saw an email from the RMT, the union of British railway workers, and a lot of other random people. There were a lot of individual letters.

It wasn’t just the bus drivers’ union, it was all the protests. Even though the military came in, the protesters kept marching forward. More and more unions came in and started to speak out, that movement led to the change of charges for the murder of George Floyd. It’s the movement that’s been keeping all these politicians accountable.

Sarah: How do your members feel about the Minneapolis City Council’s  pledge to disband the police?

Ryan: I can’t say our union has spoken specifically on disbanding, but I think there’s a strong feeling inside the union that too much money has gone into the police and more money needs to go to public services like education, transit itself, and even the postal service.

Sarah: Do you think having a union made you feel secure enough to take this action?

Ryan: They knew that they had some form of protection. If you don’t have a union, and you’re a workplace that is not organized in any way—no workers’ center or anything—the more you stick together, the more protection you have, the less isolated you are. the union is a legal body that gives you protection to exert your rights.

Sarah: Did you have discussions within your union about racism?

Ryan: Even before this, racism has been a discussion in the union anyway. I can’t really give details, because it hasn’t gone through arbirtration, but we have a case dealing with discrimination, where there was discrimination in the workplace. We recently had a meeting about discrimination, and there were people who didn’t support us, people who did. It became clear to them why the union had to take it forward and couldn’t walk away from it. This was going on against the backdrop of what’s happening in Minneapolis.

A lot of our members face racism on a daily basis. The workforce is diverse,especially if you get to operations, not just maintenance. We have Somali and Hmong, a lot of black drivers. Those members face racism on the bus, but also they come from the third precinct and have to deal with how police treat them. One coworker told me a story of how he had to have his paycheck in his glove box to be able to prove to police he could afford the car he was driving. i have heard so many stories over the years, that one’s the one that stuck out the most.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on June 11, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Sarah Lazare is web editor at In These Times. She comes from a background in independent journalism for publications including The Intercept, The Nation, and Tom Dispatch. She tweets at @sarahlazare.


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Uber And Lyft Drivers Organize To Fight Exploitation

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“Gig economy” corporations depend on a low-wage economy in which lots of people are looking for ways to get by. Their business model requires disposable people willing to take low-wage jobs with long hours and no benefits so they can pay the rent, doing things for people who need to save as much as they can, so they can pay the rent.

For example, if you’re driving for “ride share” companies like Uber or Lyft, those companies are making serious money. Meanwhile you’re probably working a lot of hours just to make rent. You drive for them, you obviously are an employee, but they say are a “contractor.” Contractors are basically employees who don’t get benefits, have to pay much more into Social Security, have to withhold their own taxes and pay them quarterly, can’t claim unemployment, don’t get Workers Compensation if injured on the job and many other disadvantages. There isn’t even a limit on the hours they work and they can’t get overtime.

The drivers (and other “contractors” around the country) say they are employees and deserve the rights and benefits of employees. Uber and other big corporations that exploit their workers as a business model claim their employees are “contractors” with no rights. Various courts, agencies, departments, etc are working to determine if they will be classified as employees or contractors.

Uber and Lyft Drivers Fighting To Unionize

Uber and Lyft drivers are fighting to do something about this and the best way to do something when you are being exploited on the job is to join a union so you are not fighting alone. In New York, for example, 14,000 Uber and Lyft drivers have signed up to say they want to join the local Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) branch.

ATU’s website says,

“Founded in 1892, the ATU today is comprised of over 190,000 members, including: metropolitan, interstate, and school bus drivers; paratransit, light rail, subway, streetcar, and ferry boat operators; mechanics and other maintenance workers; clerks, baggage handlers, municipal employees, and others.”

Buzzfeed has the Uber/Lyft/ATU story, in Nearly 14,000 Uber And Lyft Drivers Sign Union Cards In New York

Nearly 14,000 Uber and Lyft drivers in New York have signed up to join the local branch of the Amalgamated Transit Union, according to a union spokesperson. The group plans to rally at the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) headquarters next week to demand a formal vote on unionizing.

The 14,000 sign-ups exceed the 30 percent threshold that federal regulators say must trigger an official vote, the union says. The cards signed by drivers indicate that they seek ATU membership and authorize the union to act as their collective bargaining agent.

The ATU’s Local 1181 is asking the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TCL) to force Uber and Lyft to allow a union vote. Crain’s New York Business explains why, in Union seeks to organize rideshare drivers in NYC,

In a letter to the commissioner that was delivered on Tuesday, Local 1181 President Michael Cordiello asked the TLC to “schedule and conduct a free and fair election for the drivers of these corporations to determine whether they choose to be represented” by the union.

“We make this demand in conformance with the stated mission of the TLC,” he wrote, citing its status as “the agency responsible for licensing and regulating” the city’s taxis and car services.

In an interview, Cordiello added that Tuesday’s rally was only the first step in the union’s strategy.

“There are a lot of other ways we can accomplish this, such as legislation,” he said in a reference to the ordinance passed in December in Seattle that entitled Uber and Lyft drivers to union representation. “We are unfolding what we believe will be a new direction for labor and for the technology work force.”

Drivers and the ATU Local held a rally Tuesday at the TLC office in Long Island City. Vice News covered that, in NYC Uber and Lyft drivers are protesting for union rights,

Drivers for the ride-hailing service Uber turned out in the streets of Queens on Tuesday morning, demanding their right to unionize outside the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission in Long Island City.

“We demand living wage fares, no pool fares, protection from exploitation, union representation,” read one big green sign held up by one Uber driver, a middle-aged black man with a tan jacket and blue pork pie hat.

The ride-share workers — categorized as “independent contractors” rather than employees by tech companies like Uber and Lyft — had joined up with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181, which represents city bus drivers. Copies of over 14,000 signed union cards sat in a fat bundle on the table in the center of the demonstration, 10,000 cards thicker since May.

The rally had the flavor of a protest,

It was an old-fashioned rally. The ride-share workers, joined by bus drivers, marched in front of the Taxi Commission barking out chants from a bullhorn. Cop cars flanked either side of the street as people who worked inside the Commission building slowed down to check out the protest.

A few passing Uber and Lyft drivers liked what they heard and waded into the demonstration to sign union cards.

“I support this,” said Jaydip Ray, 36, a skinny guy with a blue hoodie, moments after walking away from joining up, as another young man took his place. “We need benefits. Without benefits, we don’t have any future.”

The “gig economy” means that big corporations make billionaires, while their workers are called “contractors” who have no rights and don’t make squat. It’s one more way the system has been rigged.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on September 30, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.


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