Bus strike deal falls apart

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Deal to get Detroit bus drivers back to work already in jeopardy

 

Updated at 2:07 p.m.

The deal announced today by Detroit Deputy Mayor Anthony Adams to get city bus drivers back on the street is already in jeopardy, less than three hours after it was announced.

Adams had announced a deal about noon that he said would get the bus driver’s union to end today’s surprise walkout and get the buses rolling again by 3 a.m. Thursday. He said Wayne County sheriff’s deputies would provide temporary security for 24 hours after the buses got back on the street, to give the city council time to debate the issue.

But a statement issued by the sheriff’s office about 1:30 p.m., said: “Sheriff Evans made it very clear to the Mayor’s Office this morning that he will not provide security for the DDOT system on a 24-hour emergency basis, or on an ongoing basis without support from the majority of City Council members.”

In response, Adams said that he is working to get Evans the assurances that he needs.

“This is about making sure service is restored,” Adams said.

But there’s still a question of when the council will vote on a $12-million federal grant that would allow sheriff’s deputies to patrol city buses. The council is expected to discuss it on Thursday, but several members said the session will be dominated by budget issues, so they are leaning towards voting on the contract early next week.

Councilman Kwame Kenyatta said of the alleged deal brokered to get the drivers back on the job: “It’s symbolism without serious substance… Our thing to the bus drivers is that you probably have the votes, so go back to work.”

Henry Gaffney, president of the 970-member Amalgamated Transit Union Local 26, said the drivers’ action today was not considered a strike.

“I never intended to cause anybody any hardship,’’ Gaffney said after the city announced the deal.

“We didn’t do this to pressure the council,” he said. “Let’s hope for a positive vote tomorrow’’ by the city council.

Detroit City Council members, who made it clear Wednesday morning that they would not be intimidated or threatened into voting for the contract, took the drivers’ work stoppage to task.

“I think it’s irresponsible,” said Councilwoman Barbara-Rose Collins, who voted in favor of the contract the first time it failed to pass. “I voted for the sheriffs to do it, but I will not be intimidated. I think it is illegal and wrong. There is a way to lobby.”

The hard-line stance by the council was in response to the walkout this morning that left some 120,000 riders without bus service.

Councilwoman Martha Reeves was the only member pushing for a vote today, saying that the safety of the drivers, residents and schoolchildren is at stake.

Gaffney said that today’s walkout grew from his members’ frustration with the growing dangers on the unpatrolled buses — two drivers were assaulted in the last two days.

The latest assault occurred Tuesday evening when a driver refused to accept an invalid transfer, Marchel Curtis, a member of ATU Local 26 told the Free Press this morning. The driver was struck repeatedly in the head and face and had to stop the bus. The assailant was allowed to continue riding to avoid further confrontation and later got off the bus, he said.

Curtis said the driver, whom he would not identify, was treated at a clinic and reported for work again this morning. He emphasized that Tuesday’s attack was not the sole reason for the walkout. “This has been ongoing over years,” he said.

“It’s not our intention to hurt the public,” he said. The drivers “were sorry they had to do this.”

Curtis said “riders are in support” of the union’s insistence that the council deal with the safety concerns.

Curtis said the walkout today was not organized by the union, but said union officers have joined drivers in not operating buses in support of their safety concerns.

In a new release issued early Wednesday, Detroit Deputy Mayor Anthony Adams said the city is working to restore service. “We do not agree with the tactics of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 26, but we do understand their concern,” he said. “Once we were made aware of the work stoppage this morning, we immediately notified Detroit Public Schools and SMART of the situation.”

“We are encouraging all riders to find alternative means of transportation. Para-transit services that provide transportation for special needs riders will continue to operate.”

The drivers reported for work early this morning, but have not run scheduled routes since 3:10 a.m. to protest the council’s failure to accept an $12-million federal grant that would provide funds for law enforcement personnel to ride aboard buses, particularly problem routes.

Earlier this month, by a 5-4 vote, the council refused to accept the money to pay for Wayne County sheriff’s deputies to ride the routes because of complaints from Detroit police union officials that their officers should be hired and because of liability concerns in the event of a problem aboard the buses.

Detroit police officers had patrolled buses until late 2005 when budget cuts forced the department to stop the patrols.

“We’re not striking,” said union president Gaffney, “but the city has an obligation to supply us with a safe environment to work in. It’s about health and safety.”

“There’s not one bus on the street,” he said.

Councilwoman Sheila Cockrel, who voted no earlier this month, said she has yet to see language in the contract between the city and sheriff’s office that spells out the responsibilities of each agency should liability issues arise.

She said she voted no because of concerns that if a lawsuit were filed against the city and the sheriff’s department because of an incident on a bus, the contract did not specify which of the two would be liable.

She said there is no scenario that allows the bus drivers’ union to walk off the job and leave people stranded.

Evans today said that he’s not surprised by the walkout and he’s still willing to offer deputies for bus security.

“I’ve heard the bus drivers’ union talking about it for some time and I always thought they were serious about getting some police protection on buses,” Evans said. “If council does approve it … we will start giving assistance almost immediately and start ramping up.”

Passengers searched out other methods of transportation.

At 7 a.m., the transit center at the State Fairgrounds was empty.

Sisters Natasha McCastle, 16, and Nicole McCastle, 17, found themselves without a way to get to classes this morning at Detroit’s Martin Luther King High School. Their trip to school takes two buses. A passerby told them about the walkout as they waited at a bus stop on southbound Woodward just north of McNichols.

“We’ll go home and see if our auntie will take us,” Natasha McCastle said, although her sister worried that their aunt had already left for work.

Nicole McCastle said she wouldn’t give up trying to find a ride.

“I’ve got to get to school today because I have to buy a prom ticket,” she said. “Our prom is on Friday.”

On Detroit’s east side, 18-year-old Launza Barnes waited for a bus for 20 minutes before getting word that drivers had walked off the job. He was en route to a math class at Wayne County Community College.

“What? Wow,” said Barnes, who waited at Warren and Haverhill. “It’s an inconvenience but I understand the safety concerns. If this fixes the system than I guess we’ll all be better off.”

Barnes quickly got on his cell phone to try to find an alternative way to class.

Darius Milton, 19, stood on Jos. Campau in Hamtramck with a bottle of water in hand waiting on the Chene bus to take him downtown to look for work. He said he had waited for more than 30 minutes before a passerby stopped and told him the buses weren’t running.

“Awww, man. For real?” he queried. “I’m just out here trying to get a job and now I have no way to get downtown. It’s a pain in the butt. But I guess I can understand because I’ve seen a couple drivers get slapped and one who got robbed.”

“Maybe they should hire me to patrol the buses,” Milton said with a smile — only half-kidding.

Telisha Mackenzie waited more than 20 minutes on the normally reliable Woodward bus — which, she says, tends to run every 10 minutes or so during the morning rush hour.

She was trying to make her way to 36th District Court to pay some traffic tickets.

“I have to ride the bus downtown because I can’t drive and I didn’t have a ride,” the 29-year-old mother of two said. “I was hoping to get this taken care of today so I can get my license back. I’m supposed to start a new job next week…hopefully they’ll have all this cleared up by then because otherwise I won’t be able to drive or take the bus.”

Free Press staff writers Marisol Bello, Matt Helms, Ben Schmitt, Cecil Angel, Suzette Hackney, Zachary Gorchow and Bowdeya Tweh contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2007 Detroit Free Press Inc.

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~ by Keith A. Owens on May 23, 2007.

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