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Transit Riders Unions vs. Climate Change, White Supremacy and Disaster Capitalism

By Desiree Hellegers - CounterPunch, June 19, 2017

Over the past few weeks, Portland, Oregon has been catapulted into the national spotlight as the site of clashes between antiracist and antifascist activists, on the one hand, and white supremacist and militia groups like the Prayer Patriots, Oathkeepers and American Freedom Keepers on the other. The right wing militia groups, along with other assorted Trump supporters, descended on the city in the immediate wake of the May 28th deaths of two out of three men who intervened to stop 35-year old Jeremy Joseph Christian, a self-professed white supremacist, from harassing two young Black women, one of them wearing a hijab. The attacks occurred on the city’s light rail or “Max” line on the eve of Ramadan.

Unremarked, however, in national media coverage of the attacks and their aftermath is the fact that the attack came in the midst of a growing debate in Portland about the militarization of public transportation. The attacks, in fact, came within days of a May 24 vote by the board of Trimet—the tri-county agency that manages Portland’s public transit system—to spend $9.9 million dollars to construct a new transit police facility and jail, and an additional $1.6 million to ramp up policing of public transportation.

The standing room only crowd at the May 24 Trimet Board meeting represented a cross section of Portland progressive community.  At the center of the organizing work was the people-of-color-led statewide Portland-based NGO OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, and its member organization Bus Riders Unite! (BRU).  OPAL and BRU worked to turn out a strong showing for the hearing, which included activists with union, disability rights, fossil fuel/climate justice, immigrant, houseless and renters’ rights activists, and police accountability activists from Black Lives Matter, Don’t Shoot Portland, and Portland Copwatch. Police violence became a particular flashpoint for the hearing, coming as it did on the heels of the police shooting of a 24-year-old Black man named Terrell Johnson. The shooting occurred within two months of a grand jury decision not to pursue charges against the officer who, in February, shot and killed another Black man, 17-year-old Quanice Hayes.

The shooting occurred within two months of a grand jury decision not to pursue charges against the officer who, in February, shot and killed another Black man, 17-year-old Quanice Hayes.

Barely a month earlier, OPAL activists and their allies in Oregon’s Just Transition Alliance also mobilized thousands to turn out for an April 29 march, part of the global People of Color’s Climate March, calling attention to the disproportionate impacts of climate change on frontline communities of color worldwide. On the same day, white supremacists and Trump supporters held a march down 82nd street, in a neighborhood that has increasingly become home to immigrants and people of color, many of whom have been forced out of the city’s urban core by decades of gentrification. As the Reverend Joseph Santos-Lyons, a long time OPAL board member and Executive Director of APANO (the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon) wrote in an op-ed in the Oregonian, “The sight left me with a feeling of deja vu. I was born and raised in Oregon and I had heard these chants before: ‘Go home,’ ‘Get out of our country,’ ‘You do not belong here.’ Only there was a key difference. The white supremacists were more confident, less ashamed. And perhaps for good reason. Their views are amplified nationally.” . Present on the scene at the April 29th march was Jeremy Joseph Christian, who would go on to slash the throats of three men on the city’s light rail, killing 53-year-old Ricky John Best, and 23-year-old Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, of Southeast Portland, and severely injuring 21-year-old Micah Fletcher.

With OPAL activists and their allies regrouping from the April 29 marches and mobilizing to turn out activists for the May Trimet board meeting and budget vote, Portland’s Willamette Week newspaper published a front page story headlined “Governor Kate Brown Might Sell Four Agencies to Private Bidders to Keep Oregon Afloat.” Among the state “assets” slated for sale, as a subheading indicated, is “Portland’s light rail system.” A primary impediment to the sale, the article indicated, however, would be “TriMet’s union employees [who], reporter Nigel Jaquis noted, “exert enormous power and would oppose a sale of any TriMet functions.”

Nationwide, state and local governments are facing increasing pressures in the wake of the manufactured debt crisis, to include public transportation among “assets” to be liquidated in corporate fire sales. The Willamette Week story, and the prospect of the Democratic governor selling off state agencies met with a predictably celebratory response in the conservative Weekly Standard, which responded gleefully to the prospect of the governor “burning the [state’s] household furniture to say warm” , and “rechristen[ing] the University of Oregon ‘Nike U.’” The prospect of the privatization of Portland’s light rail system is a barometer of Brown’s willingness to pursue neoliberal austerity measures, and the power that corporations like Nike and Intel exert in a state with one of the lowest corporate income taxes in the country.

The possibility of privatizing light rail ought to send shock waves throughout Portland. The city, after all, is at the forefront of the national battle to divest from fossil fuels and convert to more sustainable forms of energy.  Few cities nationwide are better situated, then, to form a united front to push back against this regressive proposal, given the intersectional organizing already at work in a city that has been profoundly shaken by the resurgence of white supremacy and creeping fascism.

Vigorous Campaign Revives Transit Union in Right-to-Work Virginia

By John Ertl - Labor Notes, May 31, 2017

Going into its latest contract, the transit union in Fairfax County, Virginia, was in tough shape. People weren’t active because they didn’t believe the union could do much—and the union couldn’t do much because people weren’t active.

Management never budged on the issues that stewards brought up. Grievances piled up, unresolved. And since Virginia is a “right-to-work” state, half the workers in the bargaining unit weren’t even members of Transit (ATU) Local 1764.

But after a robust union campaign, in a matter of months the Fairfax Connector went from a unit at risk of decertifying to a strong union shop.

Fairfax County is one of the wealthiest counties in the nation—yet the 600 bus drivers, mechanics, and utilities staff at the Fairfax Connector have no pension, because they work for a private company rather than the county. Many can’t afford to live in the affluent Washington, D.C., suburb where they work.

Workers were seething because they had been cheated out of a retirement plan. In the previous contract, they had given up a 2 percent raise in exchange for a pension. But when a pension plan could not be set up according to the contract’s poorly written terms, the company exploited the loophole and kept the money.

“People saw that the union wasn’t working on their behalf, and they saw that management just did whatever it wanted,” said bus driver Rachid Mhamdi. “There was no trust in the union.”

Ten Reasons Why Transit Privatization is Bad for the District:

By staff - ATU Local 689, May 30, 2017

1. Privatization does not guarantee savings.  Proponents of privatizing transit often make lofty claims about savings through private sector efficiencies. But frequently these claims couldn’t be farther from the truth. Public agencies are often more efficient because no profit margin gets siphoned off to shareholders.

• In Phoenix, Veolia demanded an additional $27.5 million on top of its existing $386 million contract. Veolia threatened to leave on short notice during contract negotiations if the city did not meet its demands. 1

• Officials canceled a management contract with First Transit in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The public agency experienced a cost savings by managing the system in-house.

• Veolia was dropped after 3 years by Chatham Area Transit (CAT) in Savannah, GA after the CAT chairman concluded that the private operator “was becoming too expensive.”

2. Service issues may rise: any savings often come from cutbacks.

Contractor claims about service should be taken with a grain of salt. Up-front savings are often coupled with cutbacks, hurting the most vulnerable users like the disabled and children.

• In San Diego, First Transit promised $10 million in annual savings by taking over the North County Transit District. Modest cost declines were primarily due to service cutbacks. First Transit operated 14,000 fewer service hours while other costs shot up by $1.4 million primarily due to administrative fees. 

• Between 2008 and 2010, MV Transportation was fined 295 times for bad service in the city of Fairfield, CA, which had turned to the private operator as a solution to budget shortfalls. Officials concluded that the private operator “exhibited mostly negative trends in all areas” related to performance and efficiency.

• In Nassau County, NY Veolia slashed service to close a $7.3 million budget gap. More than 30 routes saw cutbacks, in all 60% of the system experienced service declines. 

• After 19 years of privatized service in the Toledo, OH area, paratransit riders complaints

were so numerous that the agency fired First Transit. 

Railroad Workers and Our Allies Must Unite in Support of AMTRAK

By Ron Kaminkow - Teamsters for a Democratic Union, April 25, 2017

On March 16th, President Trump released a blueprint budget that proposes to slash funding for the Department of Transportation by $2.4 billion, including funding for all Amtrak “long distance” trains, along with funding for dozens of transit expansion projects nationwide. In recent months, Trump has voiced support for massive investment in the nation’s infra-structure. Yet ironically, his first proposed budget not only fails to deliver, it guts funding for existing infrastructure.

The blueprint budget proposes the elimination of most Amtrak routes across the country. If we are to save the national passenger rail system, railroad workers and their unions must unite with passenger advocacy groups, environmental organizations, and communities across the country. The vast majority of Americans want more - not less - passenger trains. In this fight, just like in others, railroad workers have lots of potential allies.

All railroaders – freight, as well as transit and passenger – should be alarmed and concerned by this proposal. Should Amtrak be defunded and dismembered, it is near certain that nothing would replace it. Privately run passenger trains fail to turn a profit – the reason that the rail carriers abandoned such service in the 1960's. And it is highly unlikely that private vendors – even if there were any – who wished to enter such a market would even be allowed by most – if not all – carriers access to their railroads. Amtrak is barely tolerated by the host railroads as it is, and then only because the act which created the entity in 1970 mandates that it be entitled to operate passenger trains on the nation’s railroads.

Thankfully, the President’s blueprint budget is not the last word on the question. We have the potential to save Amtrak – and transit funding too – over the course of the coming weeks and months, as Congress fashions what will be ultimately be the final budget. We have been down this road before of course, when George Bush was President. We will need to mobilize now like we did then. Because if Amtrak is defunded, thousands of fellow rails will lose their jobs, and as a result, we will all potentially suffer as the income for Railroad Retirement is dramatically diminished.

Ironically, as it turns out, Amtrak is one of the most efficient passenger railroads in the world, covering 94% of its operating costs at the fare box! Adjusted revenue of $2.15 billion was the most ever for a fiscal year (2016). Amtrak set an all-time ridership record despite record low gasoline prices inducing travelers to drive rather than seek public transportation. Demand for trains is out there! Considering that all forms of transportation – including airline, inland waterway, as well as automobile, bus and anything else that goes down the highway – are heavily subsidized by the states and federal government, far more than Amtrak, we are getting a great deal with the limited subsidy that Amtrak receives to keep the trains running. And in some cases – especially in rural areas – the train is the only form of public transportation available!

And trains are the safest form of transportation known to humanity. Railroad transport utilizes less land and space to transport an equivalent number of passengers in any other mode. And trains emit less pollutants than other forms, and can make use of alternative and renewable energy. As the nation’s highways and airports become ever more congested, we should be expanding passenger train options, not reducing them! As fossil fuel shipments decline, and demand for public transportation continues to grow, passenger trains could fill the void and excess track capacity in certain lanes. And in select mid-range corridors of 400 miles or less; e.g. Chicago to St. Louis, Chicago to Twin Cities; Bay Area to L.A., Houston to Dallas; Jacksonville to Miami; L.A. to Las Vegas, there is great potential to develop and expand multi-train departures on faster and more reliable schedules.

But to save Amtrak and expand the use of passenger rail – thereby increasing union rail employment, and ensuring the future of Railroad Retirement – will take a gallant effort. Rail unions cannot do this themselves, passenger advocacy groups cannot, neither can environmental organizations nor municipalities, all of whom are supporters of passenger rail. Therefore, we need a “Grand Alliance” of all of these forces to win the day. While all of us may have a specific agenda and focus, we have far more in common with one another than we have differences, there is far more that unites us than divides us. It is high time that our labor unions reach out, network, and build the necessary alliances with these forces, not just for a one-time lobbying effort for a specific narrow goal, as important as it may be. Rather, we need to build a strategic long-term alliance – despite our differences - with these forces, where we come to see one another as natural coalition partners for the long run.

Governments around the world are investing heavily in passenger rail. They understand that it is the safest, most convenient, environmentally sensitive, and often fastest way to get around. We can do it here too. But it will take the political will power and the formation of a lasting progressive coalition to bring it about. What better time than now to get started!

Cutting Off 'Fly-Over' States, Trump to Axe Amtrak for 220 Cities

By Lauren McCauley - Common Dreams, April 6, 2017

In addition to slashing funding for the arts, education programs, climate change research, and worker protections (among many other things), another lesser known casualty of President Donald Trump's "morally obscene" budget proposal: Amtrak.

The president's so-called "skinny budget" will eliminate all federal funding for Amtrak's national train network, meaning 220 cities will lose all passenger service, the  National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) warned this week.

"It's ironic that President Trump's first budget proposal undermines the very communities whose economic hardship and sense of isolation from the rest of the country helped propel him into office," said NARP president Jim Mathews.

"These working class communities—many of them located in the Midwest and the South—were tired of being treated like 'flyover country,'" Mathews continued. "But by proposing the elimination of Amtrak's long distance trains, the Trump administration does them one worse, cutting a vital service that connects these small town economies to the rest of the U.S.."

"These hard working, small town Americans," he added, "don't have airports or Uber to turn to; they depend on these trains."

Specifically, Trump's proposal slashes $2.4 billion (or 13 percent) from transportation spending, threatening long distance routes including the east coast's Silver Star and Silver Meteor lines, the New York-Chicago Cardinal train service, the Empire Builder, which connects Chicago to the Pacific Northwest, as well as the effort to restore the Gulf Coast line.

In addition to cutting Amtrak's national network—which provides the only connection to the national network for 23 states and 144.6 million Americans—it also cuts $2.3 billion in funding for new transit and commuter rail projects that would have provided thousands of construction and long-term job opportunities.

Further, in one of her first official acts, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao indefinitely suspended a grant which would have provided funding for two electric, high-speed rail lines in California: one which would have run from Los Angeles to San Francisco and the other a Bay Area commuter line.

Mathews noted that the cuts come at the same time that Trump continues to "promise that our tax dollars will be invested in rebuilding America's infrastructure."

"Instead," he continued, "we have seen an all-out assault on any project—public and private—that would advance passenger rail. These cuts and delays are costing the U.S. thousands of good-paying construction and manufacturing jobs in America's heartland at this very moment."

Trump's planned infrastructure investment has been largely panned as a "huge tax giveaway for the rich," as it will largely go to subsidizing developers and investors rather than be used for much needed projects and services.

Washington State Labor AFL-CIO Resolutions On Mass Public Transit, Railroad Health and Safety

By staff - Washington State Labor Council, July 27, 2016

Every year, delegates to the Washington State Labor Council convention discuss, deliberate and act on resolutions submitted by the affiliated union locals and councils. These resolutions establish policy, programs and action for the WSLC. The following were passed by delegates at the WSLC’s 2016 Convention held July 19-21 at the Coast Wenatchee Hotel and Convention Center.

The following resolutions specifically address matters of transportation workers. See the original post for a complete list of resolutions passed:

RESOLUTION ON SOUND TRANSIT 3

Resolution #7

WHEREAS the Greater Puget Sound Region’s traffic is the sixth worst in the country, the average driver losing 66 hours of his or her life each year due to gridlock; and

WHEREAS, relief from gridlock will get major help from the bold Sound Transit 3 plan (ST3) announced by Sound Transit, to go before the voters of King, Snohomish and Pierce counties this November; and

WHEREAS, ST3 will greatly expand mass transit in the Puget Sound region adding 62 miles of light rail, commuter rail, and bus rapid transit, to the existing Sound Transit System and upon completion of ST3 we will have 116 miles of light rail — about the size Washington, D.C.’s Metro System — extending from Tacoma in the South, West Seattle and Ballard to the West, Issaquah and Redmond to the East, and Everett to the North; and

WHEREAS, ST3 will be a $54 billion infrastructure project creating about 50 million labor hours providing many tens of thousands of building and construction jobs and great opportunities for local hire and for new, young apprentices to join the trades and few years into the project and ST-3 will account for over 1 in 10 construction jobs through both good and bad economic cycles; and

WHEREAS, the wages from these jobs will be spent locally giving an economic boost to businesses in the region and bringing much needed tax revenue into state and local governments; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that the WA State Labor Council support the Mass Transit Now campaign to pass ST3 this November; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the WSLC engage with affiliated unions and community partners to endorse Mass Transit Now and pass ST3.


Capital Blight News #116

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, August 10, 2016

A supplement to Eco Unionist News:

Lead Stories:

The Man Behind the Curtain:

Green is the New Red:

Greenwashers:

Disaster Capitalism:

Other News:

For more green news, please visit our news feeds section on ecology.iww.org; Twitter #IWWEUC; Hashtags: #greenunionism #greensyndicalism #IWW. Please send suggested news items to include in this series to euc [at] iww.org.

Edinburgh IWW statement on Scotrail/RMT railworkers strikes

By Staff - Edinburgh IWW, June 28, 2016

The Edinburgh Branch of the IWW extends our solidarity to Scotrail workers and RMT members across Britain over the issue of Driver Only Operated (DOO) trains . We support this strike on the principle of an Injury to One is an Injury to All.

The move to DOO trains will mean  that without conductors, drivers cannot ensure the safety of passengers(especially the disabled) and further , drivers are put in a more risky and dangerous position themselves. Clearly Scotrail and other train companies across Britain are putting profit before safety, describing this move as  “competitive” and “modernisation” and looking behind the rhetoric we  can see that this is an attempt to open the way to future attacks on  jobs and conditions.

This attack, this putting profit before people is  in essence no different from the 19th century workhouse-like  conditions of Sports Direct warehouses or the recent cuts in hours and pay for retail workers with the increased Minimum Wage.All we can  learn from these instances is what should be by now plainly obvious- that the working class and the employing class have nothing in common. Our interests are not just different but opposing factors within  society.

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One Million Climate Jobs: A Challenge for Canadians

By Jonathan Neale - One Million Climate Jobs, January 5, 2016

In Canada, an alliance of unions, with environment, youth, public interest, faith-based organizations and First Nations are working together through the Green Economy Network to put these principles to practice, by calling for “one million climate jobs” in Canada within the next five years.

The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) has recently adopted its COP21 Statement, emphasizing that climate change is already affecting production and consumption patterns in many sectors of our economy.

The warnings by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that the current pace of emissions is already consuming the entire global carbon budget is a clear indication that market forces on their own are not in a position to provide the kind of transition that will prevent catastrophic climate change.

Governments must step up to the plate by working and providing leadership for the common good and public interest. With a new government in Ottawa, Canada is now in a position to commit ambitious, achievable, science-based targets to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

At the 2009 COP15 in Copenhagen, Canada pledged with other G8 countries to cut its carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Such a target implies emission cuts by 2030 of no less than 38 percent of 2005 levels. Now, at COP21, we urge the federal government to recommit to at least this target.

As have Germany and Australia with their coal industries, there is a need to be proactive in regulating the petroleum industry in Canada and curbing expansion of the oil sands, which remains the fastest growing sector of the economy for greenhouse gas emissions, despite the falling oil prices.

This calls for significant industrial transformation toward a new low-to-zero carbon economy. A transformation that will eliminate or transform existing jobs, likely bringing about resistance to change, which could undermine a much needed social consensus in Canada for a way forward.

To address this resistance, a just transition strategy that is supported by workers, employers and governments is needed, with a focus on creating new jobs and incorporating training and education for displaced workers. The strategy must embody social support, re-employment and compensation measures, and be devised with the participation of workers and their representatives.

These measures must also go hand in hand with efforts to deal with unemployment overall, as rising CO2 levels and job losses are the products of the same economic model. A commitment to Decent Work, as understood by the International Labour Organization (ILO), can pave the way to an economic model that addresses social injustice, poverty and inequality at the same time. In 2013, the Canadian government, employers and unions agreed, along with those of other countries, to a set of guiding principles that can do just that. Now is the time to apply these principles for dealing with climate change in Canada.

In Canada, an alliance of unions, with environment, youth, public interest, faith-based organizations and First Nations are working together through the Green Economy Network to put these principles to practice, by calling for “one million climate jobs” in Canada within the next five years.[1] Similarly, the Blue Green Canada also brings together unions and environmental groups to tackle these issues.

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