New York City Bus Driver during the BLM uprising, summer 2020. Video posted by @berniebromanny

We Will Defeat Transit Cuts and Attacks on Working People by Building a Fighting Labor Movement

by Ryan Timlin, president of ATU Local 1005

Working people are facing impossible choices as we re-enter an economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. As essential transit workers, we see the impacts of bipartisan delays on further stimulus, increasing homelessness, stress and mental health issues — every day.

A new report found that 651 billionaires have amassed so much wealth during the coronavirus that they could fully pay for one-time $3,000 stimulus checks for every person in the United States — and still be better off than they were before the crisis. We should see this wealth-hoarding as a sign of what’s to come from the Minnesota state legislature and Metro Transit: they will try to make up for lost revenue on the backs of working people.

Recently I was re-elected for a second term as the president of ATU Local 1005 representing nearly 2,400 transit workers with a mandate to fight alongside our membership for a strong contract. In September, 94% of voting members rejected Metro Transit’s initial contract offer, and in so doing authorized strike action. This clear rejection of Metro Transit’s first offer shows that ATU members know that we deserve better than crumbs while our safety is on the line.

Actions have been driven by a core team of committed rank-and-file members in the Contract Action Team (CAT). The CAT first mobilized for the contract vote, followed by several actions coordinated with the elected ATU leadership to raise the urgency of our demands. It was a victory for the union that management agreed to open the entire contract for negotiation after our members overwhelmingly rejected their first offer. We used this opportunity to organize an all-day rally and demonstration outside of the Bureau of Mediation Services during the first negotiation session, followed by a phone blitz campaign at the Met Council Vice-Chair. The company even canceled a fun annual driver’s competition called the Bus Roadeo when members threatened to picket for a strong contract!

Our best offense against management is an active and engaged union membership. This is how the union won personal protective equipment earlier in the pandemic. Members organized and won rear-door entry for the health of all operators. A mobilized membership is how we will win the strongest contract and have the most responsive union. We want to grow the Contract Action Team and discuss how it can play a mobilizing role outside contract negotiations. We will continue to organize pandemic safe actions. More members need to step up, know your rights, and rapidly develop new leaders in ATU who are prepared to stand together when it’s time to take action.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, Metro Transit has been sloganeering that we’re “All In This Together.” What does this mean? Metro Transit has attacked part-timer hours and splits. We still don’t have hazard pay. And we can make no mistake going forward: under the pressure of cuts from the pandemic and the state legislature refusing to tax big corporations to fund transit, Metro Transit will plead poverty while ATU members are scrambling to stay safe on the job.

In every recession the political establishment and their corporate backers want workers like us to make the sacrifices. Attacks won’t be limited to transit workers, but will include workers in all sectors of the economy, both public and private, both with union representation and without. We should be open to calling for days of action locally and nationally alongside labor federations to stand against budget cuts. We can give a lead in the labor movement by winning a strong contract. To ensure that the public show up for us, we can deepen our focus on building a united labor movement prepared to link up struggles across all workers, even drawing in workers that are not yet organized.

We need to operate under the principle that an injury to one is an injury to all. I’m proud that we stood firmly with the Black Lives Matter movement. As a union, we must stand on the front lines with renters who will face eviction as soon as the moratoriums are lifted. We cannot ignore the destruction of the planet for profit and we should stand with indegenous communities against the expansion of Line-3, a pointless doubling down on the fossil fuel economy as the world continues to set record high temperatures. We have to fight together for a fundamentally different world, free from oppression and exploitation, based on mutual solidarity, where billionaires don’t exist.

Working people need more mass public transit, not less. Fully funded public transit requires building the strength of our union, and paying transit workers what we deserve along with the safety measures to do our jobs properly. And we should not hesitate to demand that big corporations and the rich be taxed to pay for the services working people need instead of profiting from the pandemic, while our drivers are attacked by crimes of poverty.

Our unions — workers collectively organized — are the best and most effective way to defend the rights and benefits that we have won historically through struggle and solidarity, and can play a crucial role in building a better world for working people.

In solidarity,

Ryan Timlin

Ryan Timlin is the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005 in Minnesota, and a member of Socialist Alternative.