I look forward to attending my monthly Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) meetings. The camaraderie of being around others who appreciate unionism, free doughnuts, and the chance to win $100 in the pot draw are a fun way to spend a few hours each month. Aside from these frills, there is the serious matter of management-labor disputes. The plethora of these disagreements reinforces the need for employee representation, yet often brings to bear the difficulty in maintaining union harmony.
ATU members are afforded a grievance procedure to contest "perceived" improper management actions. Disputes that reach an impasse have the option to be arbitrated. When our elected union officials deem arbitration appropriate, they seek final approval from the rank and file.
A recent incident exemplified the complexity in pursuing arbitration while simultaneously preserving union solidarity. In short, Metro fired a bus driver for allegedly assaulting another transit operator. This termination was based on the unsubstantiated claim of the alleged victim.
The elected leadership overwhelmingly supported this grievance because they rightfully oppose allowing management to discipline workers based on unproven accusations. Whether an employee seeks revenge or Metro is headhunting for agitators, the opportunity for misuse is too precarious to go unchallenged.
On the other hand, our union is beholden to represent and serve the interest of all its members.
Visibly distressed, a teary-eyed woman stood before the membership to tell her side of the story. According to this 50-something driver, without provocation another transit operator hit her in the head.
In addition to seeking medical attention and filing a restraining order, she also claimed her alleged attacker had harassed her in the past. Adding to her credibility, two other female bus drivers stood before the membership stating they too were hassled by this same driver.
As for the alleged attacker, he didn't even come to the meeting, thus bringing into question his sincerity in wanting his job back.
Given this woman's compelling account, the corroborating statements by other drivers and the failure of the alleged perpetrator to come before the membership, this appeared to be less of a "she said, he said" spat and more of a "she said, he did" crime.
Nonetheless, despite the apparent assault, the sentiment expressed by many of the rank and file was that the potential for management abuse was too costly to let this case go uncontested. As a result, ATU's attempt to provide due process to a union brother may have unwittingly perpetuated the victimization of a union sister.
In listening to the leadership and rank and file rationalize the need to proceed with this arbitration, I couldn't help but reflect upon the dire state of unionism. It is bad enough that national membership hovers just over single digits, that many living wage jobs are being out-sourced while our domestic workforce becomes increasingly WalMartized; now we've entered the Orwellian world where member-on-member violence is merely a by-product in the pursuit of what is "right."
In the union spirit of "all for one, one for all" for this arbitration there is no "won."
Central Area writer and Metro bus driver Joe Kadushin may be reached via email@example.com.