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Protestors to Grand Rapids transit authority: No contract for employees, no millage

Protestors picketing outside of Grand Rapids City Hall before a city commission meeting
Bryce Huffman
Michigan Radio
Protestors picketing outside of Grand Rapids City Hall before a city commission meeting

A group of protestors picketed outside Grand Rapids City Hall ahead of a City Commission meeting tonight.

The protestors’ message: No contract for bus union members, no votes to support the transit millage on the upcoming November ballot.

The protestors then carried that sentiment into the meeting itself, giving public comments to show their support for the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 836 members, who have been without a contract for over two years.

According to some union members, the contract dispute is largely over changes to pension plans, better wages for workers, and paid overtime.  But the tentative agreement from The Rapid shows that the only issue still being debated is the paid overtime. 

Peter Ricketson is with the ATU, which represents about 300 bus drivers and mechanics in Grand Rapids. He is ready for The Rapid board members to give a fair contract "so that we can mend the fences and get this millage passed and so that working families can survive."

Robert Van Kirk was one of the organizers of the protest, although he isn’t a member of the ATU. Van Kirk is a Democrat running for the 77th State House District.

“I just want working people to know there is someone fighting for them and for their families,” Van Kirk said.

The young social activist believes the transit authority is being guided by greediness in the contract discussions.

“It doesn’t make sense that the company can give board members a raise but it can’t afford to function without taking more money from the workers. That just doesn’t seem right to me,” he said.

The Rapid did offer its employees a contract this past summer, but ATU board members voted it down because it demanded more sacrifices from them, according to Ricketson. 

Michael Bulthuis is the Marketing and Communications director with The Rapid. He says  "if the Union had ratified the contract, not only would they receive significantly increased wages (3/3.5% and @5 step increases on the 1st and 2nd anniversaries of the contract), but they would also be paying much less in healthcare costs."

In a statement, Bulthuis says The Rapid supports all of its workers. 

"That’s why we signed a tentative agreement with the Union that includes competitive wage increases, significant increases in The Rapid’s contributions to healthcare, a competitive and sustainable retirement package, and weekly overtime," Bulthuis said. 

More from the statement:

Unfortunately the Union failed to ratify this agreement. The Rapid Board of Directors and Rapid staff are eager to get back to the table to negotiate, and remain committed to getting a deal done so that our employees can continue serving the people of Greater Grand Rapids.

This post has been updated to include a response from The Rapid and provide more accurate information regarding the tentative agreement between the company and the ATU

Bryce Huffman was Michigan Radio’s West Michigan Reporter and host of Same Same Different. He is currently a reporter for Bridge Detroit.
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