What a clever way to introduce Richmonders to their new Bus Rapid Transit service, Pulse, when it is scheduled to commence in less than two weeks — a drivers’ strike.
The Amalgamated Transit Union has been negotiating with the GRTC Transit System since September 2017 over a new contract, and apparently union members are getting impatient about the lack of results. Now the union is using the Pulse roll-out as leverage in the talks. Bus drivers have been wearing buttons that say, “No Contract, No Pulse,” reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Said Local 1220 president Frank Tunstall III: “We wanted to get GRTC’s attention that it’s very important we have a contract before the Pulse starts. That would be to everybody’s advantage, and when I say everybody, I mean passengers, the company and the union members.”
The union may or may not be justified in its contract demands, I really don’t know. What I do know is that in other transit systems, such as the Washington Metro, transit workers have successfully used the threat of strikes to negotiate contract terms so favorable that they damage the integrity of the transit enterprise. Washington Metro faces a multibillion-dollar backlog of maintenance projects due in considerable part to its expensive and unproductive union workforce.
But there’s a big difference between a strike by Washington Metro workers and a strike of Pulse workers. Without a functioning Metro, transportation in the Washington region would gridlock, causing massive economic dislocation and pain. That gives the union power. Without a functioning Pulse, Richmonders wouldn’t notice or care — the region is doing just fine without the BRT service at the moment, and it will do just fine if it doesn’t start on time. A strike would do nothing but get prospective riders irritated at the union, generate red ink for the GRTC — and give people an argument for investing in roads instead of mass transit.