November 17, 2009

HandyDart Workers Deserve Support

On October 22nd, over 500 HandyDart workers represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) local 1724 issued a 72 hour strike notice to MVT Canadian Bus Inc.

The deceptively named MVT Canadian Bus Inc. is a California based company which took over the operation of HandyDart services in late 2008. HandyDart provides specialized public transit services for passengers with physical or cognitive disabilities which make them unable to use the other existing transit services.

Job action was set to take effect on October 26th, but many ATU members were turned away when attempting to attend their duties on October 25th, the day before the end of the 72 hour notice. The corporate media predictably launched into an immediate anti-worker frenzy, attempting to paint the ATU as a gang of greedy thugs more than happy to strand the disabled and elderly for a quick buck.

Meanwhile, back in reality the situation is quite different than in the imaginary world of corporate media. In fact, the ATU went to great lengths to avoid a strike which they knew could inconvenience the passengers they carry each day. The ATU attempted for over eight months to bargain with MVT which met its workers with nothing but demands for unreasonable concessions which would destroy all the gains made by HandyDart workers over the last two decades.

These concessions include major cuts to benefits, reduction of shifts but as much as half and elimination of the workers pension plan. It also fails to address the question of HandyDart operator’s wages which are still below those of conventional bus drivers. All of this is nothing but a blatant drive to weaken the union and boost its own profits.

Under these conditions the members of ATU 1724 had no better option than to vote to strike. And so they did, an impressive 97% strike vote was achieved, giving a powerful mandate for job action against the corporate greed of MVT. At the same time, services are continuing to run at essential service levels for those who could otherwise face serious implications to their well being such as cancer therapy and kidney dialysis patients.

As events unfold it becomes increasingly clear that this is not a case of “greedy” workers demanding more at the expense of the elderly and disabled. Rather, it is a case of a greedy U.S. corporation seeking to extract higher rates of profit by putting the squeeze on hard working unionized drivers who provide an important public service not just for the pay cheque, but also because they care.

In this struggle can also be found evidence of the negative effects of privatization and contracting out. This attack by MVT transit is cause for renewed calls for public and democratic ownership and control of public transit, for a democratically elected and accountable Translink board, and for increased transit funding leading to expanded service and reduced (and then eliminated) fares. All of this runs counter to the corporate agenda of the current Liberal government provincially and Conservative government federally.

With collective bargaining in the near future for other transit workers and the majority of the public sector in general, there is added urgency to the need to unite with HandyDart workers and help to see that their struggle is successful. If not, we may soon see how accurate the old saying that “an injury to one is an injury to all,” really is.

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