GRAND RAPIDS, MI – “Rapid, come off it! Put people over profit!”
That was the chant ringing through Monroe North on Monday, July 24, as the city attempted to hold a promotional news conference announcing an eco-friendly partnership for the local bus system.
Members of Amalgamated Transit Union’s West Michigan branch had something else they thought the public should hear about.
“We want a fair contract,” union member Peter Ricketson said. “This is our way of making our voice heard.”
“We were very excited to have this event today,” Rapid spokesman Michael Bolt said. “It’s unfortunate we had an interruption. They’re trying to get in the way of some very positive news.”
The union representing local bus drivers has been attempting to negotiate a contract with The Rapid for two years, Ricketson said.
The initial point of contention between the two sides was benefits, he said. Now, the drivers are upset about how much overtime they are asked to work.
“The problem is they have no problem at all scheduling drivers 11- or 12-hour days,” Ricketson said. “We don’t want to have that long of a day. We want to see our families. We want to work as traditional of a shift as we can.”
Monday’s event began calmly as Mayor Rosylnn Bliss, who sits on the board of The Rapid, and other city leaders made warm remarks about a new model of state-of-the-art, environmentally-friendly buses that will soon be cruising city streets.
About five minutes into the presentation, protesters appeared from a nearby parking lot near the 6th Street Bridge.
Part of the group gathered directly in front of the podium, holding cardboard signs behind city and Rapids representatives and in front of TV cameras with phrases like “No Contract, No Millage,” and “New Contract Now” written on them. At one point, a pro-immigration activist walked in front of the podium with an eight-foot-long banner which read “dignity and respect for all immigrants.”
Louis Deshane, one of the protesters,…