No compromise in sight for The Rapid and union bus drivers

Posted at 11:40 PM, Sep 22, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-22 23:40:56-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.-- The stalemate between The Rapid and union bus drivers over a new contract continues, and it looks like no compromise is in sight.

OnTuesday night at meeting of the Grand Rapids city commission, Rapid workers and their union asked elected officials for their support in the collective bargaining process.

One of those speakers was Truly Schutt, 70, who says she wants to retire but is worried she won't be able to without the city's help. "I'm going to be driving that bus until the day I die, that's about the way it goes," Schutt said. "Everybody is very stressed. Everybody has a different view. We need to work together as a team and get this taken care of."

The union and the city have been negotiating for more than nine months on a new contract, with changes in retirement the main point of contention. "It's going to hurt a lot of workers and current retirees," said Richard Jackson, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 836. "Nobody can foresee the type of damage it can snowball into, but it will be a dramatic change from what we have."

ATU Local 836 and its workers continue to object a proposal from Rapid management to change retirement from the current traditional pension plan and replace it with a plan that resembles a 401K.

"I argued this evening that the tactics that the union has used in misinformation is uncalled for," said Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell. "It's counterproductive, and it's out to stop right now so we can get productive work done at the negotiating table."

Heartwell said that after 20 negotiation meetings, a proposal is needed from the union. "It's in their court. They haven't come back they're waiting, we've been waiting for 22 days if they somehow think we'll negotiate against ourselves, they're wrong. We need this proposal from the union."

ATU Local 836 says they've made several proposals to restore the pension plan, but neither side is reaching common ground.

Both the union and Heartwell told FOX 17 Tuesday that no future bargaining dates or extensions have been scheduled.

The Rapid said at the beginning of the month that prior wage and benefit programs will be staying in place during this stalemate, but they have stopped collecting union dues through payroll deductions.

FOX 17 reached out to The Rapid Tuesday. Here's the statement they released to us from Rapid CEO Peter Varga:

"We appreciate the work that our bus operators do every day to get people in the community to work, to school, to the doctor's office, to the grocery store. Our employees, despite these distractions, are committed to doing their jobs and serving our customers. It is my hope that we can resume negotiations and focus on how we can positively and productively move forward to resolve the issues on the table."