The Rapid and drivers union trade accusations on contract dispute

Posted at 6:15 AM, Aug 28, 2015

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A war of words between the executive board of the Interurban Transit Partnership, called The Rapid, and the union that represents drivers and mechanics escalated on Thursday.

The union issued a press release accusing the Rapid of “stealing from the poor and middle class to give to the rich,” a reference to the board’s proposed fare increase and a raise for Rapid CEO Peter Varga. The board made public its letter to the union denying that the board is trying to take pensions away from union members.

The Rapid’s contract with members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 836 ended June 30, and a 60-day contract extension ends August 29. Contract negotiations have centered on pensions for the workers.

The union press release says Rapid management threatened to throw out pension plans for workers when the contract extension ends. The board’s letter to the union says it doesn’t want workers to lose their pensions and accuses the union of forcing the board into a position where cancellation of the pension is required. (See both statements through links below.)

“The Rapid does not want to terminate the existing plan,” says the letter from The Rapids’ legal representative. “Doing so would unfairly punish employees and individuals who have provided years of service to our organization.” The letter says the major issue is that the pension fund is underfunded by “more than $2.6 million,” and the union and board must come to an agreement addressing the shortfall.

In the union press release, local president Richard Jackson accused the Rapid board of threatening to “‘[terminate] the parties’ collective bargaining agreement’ if the union does not submit to its demands.”

Jackson also took the board to task for discussing in Wednesday’s public meeting whether to raise fares and award Varga a raise. “They rubber stamped a plan to steal retirement security from their own employees,” Jackson is quoted in the release. “And they proposed giving a CEO who already makes $200,000 another raise. They are literally stealing from the poor and middle class to give to the rich.”

“Let’s call it what it is: robbery,” said Jackson. “A bunch of out-of-touch Board members proposed a fare hike that would make riding a bus in Grand Rapids, Michigan, as expensive as riding one in Washington, DC.”

Earlier this week, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order against the Rapid following the alleged threat to arrest off-duty employees who distributed literature about contract negotiations.

The Rapid letter to union (PDF)

ATU Press release-8-27-15