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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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Minnesota Janitors and Security Officers Set Strike Vote, Say Corporate Elite Has Power to Unlock Better Future

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seiu-org-logoFor janitors and security officers in Minneapolis, members of SEIU Local 26, a raise would help bring them above the poverty line. It would allow them to  pay for basic necessities, including groceries, school, rent or mortgage. And they’re  prepared to fight for themselves, their fellow workers, and their families in order to achieve those things.

As the next step in their fight for a living wage and and affordable health care, members of Local 26 held  a rally in downtown Minneapolis yesterday after contract bargaining came to a standstill. At the rally a strike petition was circulated, with a strike vote is scheduled for February 9.

“It’s not fair that while our productivity is going up, our wages are not keeping pace,” said Margarita Del Angel, a janitor who spoke at the rally. “We are being forced to do more and more work for the same amount, so our employers can cut back on workers and save money at our expense. And now, they are demanding to pay us even less. They want to cut wages for more than half of us…They want to lock us into poverty, while continuing to grow richer at our expense.”

For the first time ever, more than 6,000 janitors and security officers in the Twin Cities and suburbs are negotiating new contracts simultaneously. In 2008, a new contract was negotiated for 1,000 security officers after they struck in downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis. In 2006 and 2009,  janitors voted to authorize strikes, but both were narrowly averted.

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The average worker in Local 26 earns $20,503 annually. The federal poverty line for a family of four is $23,050.

Members of SEIU Local 26 clean and protect some of the Twin Cities’ largest office buildings that house some of the wealthiest corporations in the country, including Target, US Bank, and Wells Fargo. The contracts expired December 31, but after months of negotiations, employers are still unwilling to bargain in good faith.

“We’ve tried to bargain in good faith,” said Demetruis Moore, a member of the bargaining committee who’s worked as a security officer for more than five years. “But it’s clear they have no intention of doing so. Either come to the table and bargain in good faith, or we’re done. We’ll see you in the streets.”
If Local 26 members vote on February 9 to authorize a strike, the bargaining committees would then decide when and if a strike was necessary, as well as set a date for a strike. If a strike were to happen, it would be one of the largest strikes to ever happen in downtown Minneapolis.

“While we are proposing fair raises to move workers forward, our employers are demanding cuts. This would move workers backwards,” said Moore, the member of the bargaining committee. “The corporate elite in this country have the power to help unlock a better future for all of Minnesota. It’s time they do that.”

This post was originally posted on SEIU on January 25, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Mariah Quinn is a writer for SEIU.


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Clean Energy Company Treats Workers Like Dirt

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Covanta Energy operates 30 incinerators in the U.S. that convert waste to energy. The company’s holdings include Hennepin Energy, an incinerator that employs members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Minneapolis, Minn., Local 160.

Covanta, which increased its earnings in 2008 to $50 million, prides itself on being an innovative, “green,” responsible employer. But the vast majority of Covanta’s U.S. plants are nonunion. And the company, which is seeking to develop new projects in Canada, China, Ireland, the U.K. and the Netherlands, intends to keep it that way.

In 2008, the Utility Workers Union of America organized 130 workers at one of the company’s waste incinerators in Rochester, Mass. Soon after the National Labor Relations Board certified the union as the bargaining agent in Richmond, Covanta instituted new work rules. The regulations ban any solicitation or distribution of “unauthorized” material anywhere on company property or company time.

Employees are also told not to provide any information about Covanta to the news media, government officials or other “outside representatives” without management’s approval.

The utility workers filed a charge with the NLRB, contending that the rules, published in the employee handbook, violate the National Labor Relations Act. The same charges were filed in every NLRB region where Covanta operates a facility.

On May 22, The NLRB issued a complaint charging Covanta Energy with violating labor law at 46 Covanta locations across the U.S.

In April, OSHA issued citations against Covanta for violating fire safety rules and for “maintaining” electrical equipment with duct tape and cardboard. The citations–based on an October 2008 inspection of the Rochester plant requested by the utility workers–found that Covanta had improperly stored oxygen and fuel cylinders side-by-side on a welding cart with no barrier between them.

The labor board and OSHA findings don’t surprise Thomas Koehler, business manager of Local 160, who says that Covanta has historically operated with a heavy hand leading to high worker turnover. With Local 160’s contract with Covanta expiring next summer, Koehler hopes that government scrutiny will help force Covanta to be more responsible for employees and rethink its hostility to unions.

The utility workers are taking their campaign for worker justice at Covanta across the globe. In the U.K. the national Trades Union Congress has requested that unions spread the word about Covanta’s hostility to unions in four communities where new projects are proposed. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions and national unions in Canada have voiced similar support.

This article originally appeared in Working Life on June 3, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the author.


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