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Honor the memory of Owens, Hanley by pursuing vision of the 59th Convention

There comes a time in most of our lives when grief can seem almost unbearable. The same can be said when nations or organizations suffer a terrible loss. This is such a time for our Union.

I am deeply saddened that we lost our beloved, long-time International Secretary-Treasurer Oscar Owens, on October 25th, after a brief illness. Oscar was more than just an international officer. He was a friend, a mentor, and an inspiration – particularly when times were tough.

His unexpected death, and the untimely passing of former International President Larry Hanley just five months earlier, came as a sudden “one-two punch” to the gut for me and so many of you across the U.S. and Canada.

‘Thrilled and full of joy’

One measure of what Oscar meant to ATU was his re-election to a seventh term as International Secretary-Treasurer at our recent 59th International Convention. He had served alongside six International Presidents, and after all those years, he told the delegates that he was still “thrilled and full of joy” upon being re-elected.

Oscar gave his last full measure of devotion until his unexpected passing, just as he had given throughout his more than 50 years of service to our Union. And because of his and the efforts of so many, our union-wide gathering was a great success.

A forward-looking, progressive vision

The delegates to the Convention adopted a forward-looking and progressive vision for the future of our Union and the transit industry. And, they elected a great group of International Vice Presidents who I know I can rely on to help me carry it out.

All of the challenges our members face in the U.S. and Canada were considered by the delegates, and an impressive set of resolutions was adopted to aggressively address those problems as you’ll see in more detail in the pages of this magazine. 

We’re ready to fight

Just a few weeks after our Convention, our Union showed that we are ready to fight. More than 120 Local 689-Washington, DC, members working for private contractor Transdev at WMATA’s Cinder Bed Road Bus Garage went on strike. These workers make $12 per hour less on average than a public sector WMATA bus operator. They also have a $6,000 deductible on their health insurance – for those who can even afford it. Yet they drive the same buses, on the same Metrobus routes that public WMATA employees have for years. 

Then just down the road from Cinder Bed Road Bus Garage, Local 1764-Washington, DC, members who work for Transdev at Fairfax Connector staged a strike in protest of the multinational company’s unfair labor practices and bad faith bargaining. These Fairfax Connector workers had enough with Transdev’s same blatant disregard for the law, their riders and their workers as they have with our Local 689 sisters and brothers at Cinder Bed Road Bus Garage. After four days on strike and pressure from riders and elected officials, there was progress in negotiations, so the Fairfax Connector workers went back to work. However, they are ready to walk off the job again if Transdev went back to their union-busting ways at the bargaining table.

Historic victory over privatization

Capitalizing on the pressure from these strikes, riders, allies and elected officials, Local 689 reached a contract with WMATA for Metro workers that forces the agency to give up its strategy of privatizing and create a path to bring the work at Cinder Bed Road in house and not outsource Metro’s Silver Line.

This is an historic victory over privatization.  Our sisters and brothers at Cinder Bed Road and Fairfax Connector are the heroes. Their courage, solidarity, determination and resolve on the picket lines showed WMATA, their General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, and Fairfax County that transit workers will stand up against privatization and fight for equal pay for equal work. I am proud to call them my sisters and brothers.

Unity is more important

Oscar knew that unity and solidarity were critical to our success in these fights. In his last column for In Transit, he wrote:    

Our members standing in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in other locals, the labor movement, and all working people showed what a powerful force we can be. And that unity is more important than ever before.

While we mourn the passing of two great ATU leaders, we will honor their memory by pursuing the vision laid out by the delegates to the 59th International Convention.

Larry and Oscar would have us do no less. They both strongly believed and understood that “Together We Fight, Together We Win”!