Bus stop lines stretch around corners, many riders face 2 to 3 hour waits
Union leaders deny claims of slowdown
Watson questions whether administration plans to privatize D-DOT
By Diane Bukowski
September 20, 2011
DETROIT – Bus workers and their union leaders, community representatives, and many passengers expressed fury Sept. 16 at claims by Mayor Dave Bing’s appointees that current block-long bus lines and hours-long waits result from a deliberate slow-down by mechanics, and threats by union officials against workers if they don’t comply.
Bing’s Group Executive Terrence King and Department of Transportation (D-DOT) Director Lovevett Williams also claimed drivers are colluding with the mechanics by reporting “non-existent” mechanical problems, during a public hearing called by the City Council. King even blamed bus drivers for calling in sick to attend the mass mobilization of unions in Lansing April 13 to stop Public Act 4, the emergency manager act which threatens to remove city officials as well as unions and workers.
Bing colluded with Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and legislators in drafting that act. (See VOD story at http://voiceofdetroit.net/2011/06/21/bing-ricktator-gate/).
“I want to state for the record that there is no slowdown, there is no proof of a slowdown, and as far as us threatening employees, that’s a lie!” Leamon Wilson, president of the bus mechanics Local 312 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) said angrily.
During the hearing, it was King who threatened mechanics and drivers with imminent discharge and discipline. King even said the administration is getting ready to post driver and mechanic jobs to replace those they fire.
“I’ve been president for 20 years and never had my people threaten to kill our fellow members,” Wilson countered. “The problem is gross mismanagement. We have tried to get D-DOT to hire more mechanics, but instead they laid off. As a result of the Mayor’s policies there have been massive retirements in the entire city, and 30 mechanics retired in the last 18 months. They wouldn’t replace them. Instead they gave us unlimited overtime, which was insane. We never wanted that.”
King also claimed mechanics were slowing down due to the Mayor’s recent cut-off of their overtime, and that he had only identified problems with deteriorating bus service in the last three weeks. In denying those claims, Wilson presented a thick document to the Council summarizing the history of problems in the Department.
“Bus service has been bad for over a year even when we had unlimited overtime,” Wilson said. “Management got this body to approve massive vendoring contracts, some of them worth up to $18 million. In the last 18 months, there have been more contracts than ever before, even when we had 600 buses. Vendoring does not work. Check the records, see how long bus 3930 was out of service and how long the vendor had it. It took us two months to fix what they did because they butchered the frame so bad. One vendor had a bus for a full year, and we had to tear it down and re-build it all over again.”
Williams told the council that the department currently has 445 buses, but that up to 200 are not in operation due to the alleged “slow-down.” She claimed the “industry standard” is to have one bus mechanic for four to five buses, while D-DOT has one mechanic for every 2.5 buses.
“They have enough mechanics to fix those buses,” Williams claimed.
There are 145 mechanics, according to a report King made to Council Sept. 20. He said some may be on workers comp leave. Those figures mean there is actually one mechanic for every 3.06 buses.
Wilson said weekends are normally a prime time for mechanics to repair the buses, ever since Bing drastically cut week-end service in 2009 after mass protests by riders at public hearings, leaving more buses in the yards.
“But they’ve only been working skeleton mechanic crews on the weekends,” Wilson said. “At one garage recently, there were only four mechanics, with one assigned to test-driving the buses, leaving three in the garage. But meanwhile there are more foremen than workers, because they are giving the foremen unlimited overtime. The work force is totally demoralized, the ridership out there is suffering, they’re hrowing bricks at buses. Even our service truck drivers scared to drive. The Mayor give less than a damn about the people.”
City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson asked King why the Mayor and D-DOT had not scheduled a meeting with the public, the Council, and the unions to resolve matters. She said the council has no direct power over executive matters. She also asked whether the administration’s allegations are a move to privatize D-DOT.
U.S. District Court Judge Sean Cox issued an edict Sept. 9 taking over the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) through regionalization, abrogating the City Charter, the state Constitution and union contracts. National water service experts have said privatization is likely the next step.
There have been numerous proposals in Lansing over the years to merge D-DOT and the pseudo-public SMART (Suburbuan Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation). As with the DWSD move, many Detroiters fear transportation in their city will be further diminished and that suburban officials will get the lion’s share of federal funds and lucrative contracts.
King claimed the city has been attempting fruitlessly to meet with the union for several months to resolve issues and has been complying religiously with the union contract, a claim Wilson denied.
“We’ve been trying to meet with them for quite some time—there’s a chain of letters in that package,” Wilson said. “When Saul Green was still deputy Mayor, I went to him to talk about the shopload of over 170 buses that were down, and ended up getting threatened in a meeting by [D-DOT administrator] Larry Luckett, who said he would kick my a— in the parking lot. They have called my mother a ‘whore’ and a ‘bitch’ as is documented in the letter you have before you. The Department doesn’t comply with the privatization ordinance or the collective bargaining agreement. We’re over at MERC (the Michigan Employment Relations Commission) right now suing them because they’re violating it whenever they want. That fact is you have an administration that really doesn’t know how to run the city, and they’re blaming the union.”
Local 312 has faced numerous attacks over the years by various administrations, including Wilson’s discharge at one point, which was overturned after union protests.
Wilson said every mayor prior to Bing, including Coleman Young, Dennis Archer, and Kwame Kilpatrick has met in person with him and the union leadership to resolve transportation problems.
Henry Gaffney is President of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 23, pointed at the Council bench and said Bing should be sitting there as well.
“Mr. King probably doesn’t know anything about transportation,” Gaffney said. “I suggest he and the Mayor come out and ride that bus. There are 107,000 people a day who have to depend on the buses. It’s reached an all time high. Our drivers are catching hell. The passengers see nobody else out there but the drivers, and they are getting verbal abuse and worse. One driver was just physically attacked on the Dexter route, where three buses were running when there needed to be 14. We are not going to continue accepting this situation where our members don’t know if they’re going to get home to their families. We are at our wits’ end—this is the worst administration I’ve ever seen when it comes to taking care of people.”
Gaffney said drivers come to work starting at 3:30 a.m., but by 5 a.m. all buses are gone, and they are left waiting for a bus.
“It’s the worst I’ve ever seen transportation, and I’ve been here 20 years,” Gaffney said. He said his drivers have already been forced to take an eight percent pay cut, and that his union also has sent letters to the Mayor and received no response.
“It’ll be dark at 4 pm in a minute—wait until some little girl gets raped,” Gaffney said. “When a bus leaves the Rosa Parks terminal, he’s packed, everybody else on that line, they’re out of luck. These people here right now—they want a bus Monday morning, people are going to lose their jobs if they can’t get to work, but the buses have been running three to four hours late for the last year. Sixty percent of households in the city don’t have a car, they have to get on the bus to go to the grocery store, the doctor, everywhere. Action is needed NOW!”
Many in the audience raised specific problems, among them the transportation of Detroit Public Schools students, mistreatment of riders with disabilities, and Detroiters’ loss of jobs if they have to take the bus to work, due to constant tardiness and absences.
Long-time schools activist and leader of Keep the Vote No Takeover, Elder Helen Moore, said Bing and Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts met recently and instituted a new policy forcing children to remain in the schools they were in last year whether or not they have moved out of the neighborhood.
“When these people get together are they really concerned about our children and their safety or what they and the corporations want? Our children are in an unsafe situation, waiting on the bus for two to three hours, through no fault of their own.”
Councilwoman Watson called on Bing and Roberts to put in writing a policy they claim to have enacted, which would allow children to show their student ID cards to get on D-DOT buses free, in the wake of huge DPS transportation cuts.
Lisa Franklin, president of Warriors on Wheels, representing wheelchair disabled riders, denounced recent actions by D-DOT paratransit subcontractor Enjoi.
“Paratransit is just as jacked up,” Franklin said. “We staged a march against poor transportation service Aug. 31, and two days later a memo was sent out to the providers that wheelchair users have to get on the bus backwards, which is correct. But now they are making us RIDE backwards for two and three hours. That’s nothing but retaliation. Since the transition to Enjoi three years ago nothing has changed. There used to be a two hour turnaround before they picked you up, now it’s three hours or “as soon as a vehicle is available.”
D-DOT Director Williams said she did not have information on the backwards-ride policy and “would get back” to the Council.
Other wheelchair users who testified also complained about riding backwards, and about rear-end loaders, which they said are unsafe because there is no exit in the event of a rear-end collision, and they are sitting on top of the bus motor, creating extremely hot conditions. They also said they are frequently passed up by buses that are full.
“I want the driver to stop at the corner when I wave if I can’t get to the bus stop,” said one rider. “That’s the rule. But I know they’re under a lot of stress. I understand when the bus is packed like sardines, people hitting me with purses and elbows, standing in front and back of my chair where they shouldn’t be.”
Sheila Jackson Carter, a job developer for LASED (Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development), said many people lose their jobs or are denied employment if they depend on city bus transport.
“I’ve had employers tell me that it’s a black eye on an application once they check they don’t have transportation—nine times out of ten they won’t get called. I’ve been instructed not to send people to them if they depend on the bus. But people can’t afford cars, gas and insurance rates. People ride bus because can’t they can’t afford to do anything else. Our are people losing jobs—1,2, 3 tardinesses and they’re out. On the temp jobs, you miss one day and you’re out of a job.”
Cynthia Johnson-Brown showed the Council a 2010 report issued by D-DOT.
“The number of people that can ride bus is supposed to be 30 to 50 people. We are hurting—this is a safety factor, there have been up to 75 people packed on bus. Your report says if there are more than 61 people on the bus, you are supposed to shut down the line.”
Mary Williams said she and her son were returning home from a doctor’s appointment at Woodward and Mack, but waited for one and a half hour before she decided to go down the street to a store. She said they saw the bus coming, and were only able to get on it because they were by themselves; the bus had to pass by the long line at Woodward and Mack.
Several riders expressed solidarity with bus workers.
Retired UAW worker Derrick Batiste said he has had to stop passengers from jumping on drivers, and explain to them it is not the drivers’ fault, but that they should complain to the Mayor, the Department and the Council.
“I am a victim,” said Nora Simmons. “I was really late getting to my job in Pontiac because the Seven Mile bus was delayed over an hour. But the Bible says the wages shall not be oppressed of the employees. By them cutting the bus drivers wage, they violated God’s law, according to Malachi 3:5. You cannot take their jobs from 19 to 15 dollars an hour when they have earned their pay.”
Mr. Sweatt said, “I’ve been on the bus for two months. I lost my job about two years ago, I either have to pay rent or get car fixed. It seems like a no brainer—pay your rent. But I’ve seen some violence on the bus. I can’t see myself watching a bus driver get assaulted without me intervening, so I decided to get my car fixed. I’d rather be homeless than carless in the city of Detroit.”
Several bus drivers expressed solidarity with their passengers.
“I apologize to the passengers for rude drivers,” said 25-year bus driver and union representative Mark Williams. “It is not the driver’s fault. The majority of drivers are good hard-working drivers, under a heck of a lot of stress. They might not have got a break for three hours when they get to Rosa Parks, and when they run to bathroom and there are a hundred people out there, they get angry. We understand if it’s your mother, daughter, and child, it’s dangerous, but please don’t take it out on us. This is the worst situation I’ve ever seen.”
Twenty-year bus driver Evans said, “It’s hard for me to come to work and report for a bus and they tell me I can’t have a bus.” Turning to the audience, he said, “Its means I can’t pick you up and I’ve developed relationships with my riders. I’m from the city. Before I was a bus driver, I rode the bus. There have been years of declining service, cutting lines and service times. I was insulted because he (King) said our operators didn’t want to work. We have not been provided with the tools in order to be professional.”
Another speaker pointed out that drastic cuts in routes Bing has made over the last several years have meant that riders are forced onto other routes, overcrowding the buses there.
Donald Harris, a graduate student at the University of Detroit Mercy, said the city administration lacks respect for bus riders and needs to commit to D-DOT with “out-of-the-box” thinking.
“There is a systemic lack of respect for people who take public transportation in city of Detroit. The level of service we get is completely reprehensible. The administration does not care about people who ride the bus. When I was in Chicago, the total wait time on Sunday on a holiday weekend was not more than 12 minutes. They have budget issues also. There is techonology available, green dollars available—where’s the out of the box thinking on this?”
Denise Dansby said she rides the Seven Mile bus and now faces a three hour wait for a bus, sometimes not getting home from work until after 8 p.m.
“In July the Greenfield bus was an hour late, and a young man was robbed at gunpoint in front of all of us,” Dansby said. “Two tires came off another bus with passengers riding down street. Dave Bing needs to be the main one here. Rehire drivers and mechanics, put more buses on the road.”
King and Wilson said they have a labor-management meeting on the problems scheduled for Monday Sept. 19.
UPDATE: On September 20, King reported back to the City Council that city administrators met with Local 312 President Leamon Wilson and seven of his board members. He said they are to meet again Sept. 21 and afterwards for “discovery” purposes.
“Neither party basically changed its opinion as to the cause, but both agreed to do whatever is necessary to get the buses fixed,” King said. “There is a meeting tomorrow where the unions will bring their solutions to table.”
King claimed it would be difficult to change the number of mechanics working on the weekends, and that D-DOT is putting together plans to notify the media at its request of changes in bus schedules due to the alleged “slowdown.” He said buses are being moved to other routes where needed.
Councilwoman Brenda Jones asked what plan there is to rapidly hire more mechanics, a key issue raised by Wilson at the Sept. 16 meeting. King skirted the question, although he claimed Sept. 16 that the city was already working to post jobs for mechanics and drivers (after firing current employees).
Council members JoAnn Watson and Kwame Kenyatta asked that the current 145 mechanics be connected with the 200 non-operable buses “by any means necessary,” including moving stored parts back to the garages. Both called on the city and union to reach agreement to send buses out for repair if necessary. On Sept. 16, Wilson said that such outsourcing has not been productive for years and in fact caused further delays.
To watch entire Council hearing Sept. 16, click on