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The Fights Ahead

For more than 130 years, our Union has fought to provide better wages, benefits, and working conditions for our members. In a world where the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, the middle class is shrinking, and job security is a thing of the past, it’s more important than ever that we stand together to fight for our rights.

As we look ahead, there’s a lot to be optimistic about. The perception of unions is changing. Seventy-one percent of Americans approve of labor unions, the highest since 1965. Also the number of union elections soared in 2022 and unions won a majority of them including our own Union. Despite the many challenges, there are also so many inspiring stories of workers who have come together to improve their lives and their communities through the power of collective action.

One great example of this is our Local 689-Washington, DC, members working for Loudoun County Transit in Northern Virginia, who, as I write this, have been on strike for over seven weeks against private contractor Keolis. I was on the picket line with them and witnessed their strength and resolve. Every day our members get stronger and demonstrate what we’ve been saying all along that public transit should remain public and not be contracted out to private corporations who will do anything to keep wages low at the expense of workers and the public.

To every striking member who reads this, we stand with you until you get a contract you deserve, a contract that you came together to fight for in the rain and cold. Through the good days and the bad. You are our heroes, and you inspire our entire movement to hold the line.


Not One More 

Another issue our members are facing daily is the epidemic
of assaults on transit workers across North America. In the U.S., this led the ATU to fight for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which includes language from the Transit Worker and Pedestrian Protection Act. The ATU wrote that bill, and our members fought for it for years. Not only does it have a strict definition of assault on a transit worker, but it also gives us the power to develop safety plans.

At the beginning of the year, we sent an urgent letter to U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Pete Buttigieg, urging the DOT to address the national transit worker safety crisis immediately. In the letter, we demanded help for our members who had been shot, stabbed, and struck with canes, fire extinguishers, screwdrivers, hammers, and garbage cans. They have been sprayed with mace and pepper spray, burned with hot coffee, and doused in urine and spit. This constitutes a regular day on the job in the transit industry.

After our Local 689 member, Robert Cunningham, was shot and killed on the job being a hero and saving the lives of riders, a letter just wasn’t enough, so I headed
to DC to meet with Secretary Buttigieg in person as well as Deputy Secretary Polly Trottenberg, FTA Administrator Nuria Fernandez, and key staff at the DOT to discuss our serious safety concerns and call on the DOT to take action.

I told the Secretary that our members are being attacked every day. In fact, we’ve seen a 400% increase in assaults against transit workers in the last decade. Everyone deserves the right to a safe workplace and to come home to their family at the end of the day. We talked about safety barriers to protect our members and the slow progress of forming safety committees at transit agencies.

We are urging transit vehicle safety standards, quality barriers to protect drivers from attacks, and funding for a prototype bus that will help protect our members from assaults, and address blind spots, air circulation, and overall improved safety for our nation’s transit vehicles. Secretary Buttigieg pledged that the DOT will work to address our concerns and recommendations.

In Canada, a National Taskforce is leading the way to bring more attention to and find solutions for the escalating violence on transit. We join with ATU Canada and our Locals in Canada to call for this vital task force that is demanding action from all three levels of government. We will not stop aggressively fighting until not one more transit worker or passenger is hurt or killed.


Workforce Development

The ATU has a long history of supporting the advancement of workers. That’s why since taking office, one of my key issues has been on workforce development and apprenticeships. Improving our members’ skills, knowledge, and abilities provides social and economic benefits, including reducing unemployment, increasing earning potential, improving the quality of life of our members and their families, and helping meet the changing needs of the transit industry.

To start the year off, I traveled to Denver, CO, in January to participate in the U.S. Labor Department’s Advisory Committee on Apprenticeships, which I proudly sit on. As the leader in the transit industry for apprenticeships, it’s crucial for our Union to be part of the process of modernizing, expanding, and diversifying the apprenticeship system in the United States.

This year we have already launched new apprentice and mentorship programs from Local 689’s new coach operator mentor program at WMATA to Local 1287-Kansas City, MO’s new bus mechanic apprenticeship program at KCATA and more. Congratulations to all our members for putting in the work to deepen your knowledge of the transit industry to better serve our communities.


Gender Equity

In the modern workforce, labor unions play a crucial role in ensuring workers’ rights and fair treatment. One aspect of this is gender equity, which aims to eliminate discrimination and promote equality between men and women in the workplace.

Although there has been progress in recent decades, gender inequality remains a persistent issue, making the role of our Union in advocating for gender equity even more important than ever. That’s why we have made gender equity another one of our focus issues by publishing a Gender Equity Report, following a report previously released in Canada, to shine a light on the conditions faced by women and non-binary members here in the U.S.

We found that our women and non-binary members are still experiencing issues with preferential treatment, inadequate restroom access, threats to their physical and psychological safety, sexual harassment, and inadequate parental leave.

We also found that a majority of Local leadership positions are not filled by women and non-binary members. While I’m proud to say we are an exceptionally diverse Union, there’s still work we have to do. I always say that if you want something done right, put a woman on your board. Women in leadership positions only make us a stronger Union. I’m proud of this report and look forward to the impact it will have on our overall gender equity initiative.


Fight Alongside You 

As you can see, there are a lot of challenges ahead. From the picket line to the halls of government, we will continue our over 130 year-long fight for justice. It might seem endless, but there will come a day when we no longer fear for our lives when we go to work. There will be a day when no worker will have to fight for basic dignity, respect, and equity. Until then, it is my honor to be in this fight alongside you. Here’s to our continued pursuit of progress, hope and unity.