The Rapid provides necessary public transportation for students and citizens in the Grand Rapids area. Recent developments with The Rapid, and proposed decisions from the board, are leading some community members, labor groups, and students to perform a day of action and fare strike on January 27.
The Rapid’s Board is proposing cuts that would strip transit workers of their pensions and also increase the fare price by 16 percent. These proposals, and the resulting angst and action from the community, comes after nearly a year of failed negotiations between The Rapid’s management and its workers.
Currently, the pension plan is set up where The Rapid puts $1 per hour worked by an employee into the pension system without the employees contributing anything. The Rapid has proposed putting 5 percent of employee pay into a 401(k) style retirement account that shifts the risk and reward of investment returns to the employee. The union wants a guaranteed pension with less risk and is willing to contribute money into the system.
The issues are forcing community members to speak out and take action.
“I have been involved because I know that what The Rapid is doing to its workers is setting a precedent all across Grand Rapids, a city that already has a 26 percent poverty rate,” said Lindsey Disler, a student and USAS member at Grand Valley State University. “What the Rapid is doing continues to increase the already huge wealth inequality in our country.”
Union negotiators have said management is refusing to bargain in good faith. Back in 2015, some union bus drivers attempted to distribute flyers to the public in order to educate the masses on the dilemma the drivers faced. The Rapid quickly shut down the attempt and threatened drivers with discipline and arrest.
In September of that same year, U.S. District Judge Janet Neff found that The Rapid officials violated the bus drivers First Amendment rights by stopping the handouts of the publication.
The day of action and fare strike will focus on riders refusing to pay their fares for the day. Riders are encouraged to politely inform their driver that “The Rapid’s recent actions toward its workers and riders is a form of economic violence that I won’t condone. Because it is illegal for union bus drivers like you to go on strike in Michigan, I am doing the closest thing that I can as a rider by engaging in this one-day fare strike.”
While the fare strike is sure to ruffle some feathers, it’s final goal hinges on bringing together The Rapid and the union to meaningfully sit down and come to a compromise that works for both parties.
“We care deeply about the well-being of these workers, because they literally keep this city moving. Until they’re granted a fair contract, we won’t be silent and will not stop standing up for them,” explained Disler. “The Rapid can do better for its workers.”