Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Walking the Picket Line


Drivers in the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1433 walk past parked buses during their picket early Monday. They are on strike against Veolia Transportation, which provides bus service in Phoenix.

The men and women who drive the buses that crisscross Phoenix walked off the job this weekend stranding thousands of Valley residents who rely on mass transit. At a time when gas prices are approaching $4 a gallon, this particularly hurts people on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder and those who don't drive. Veolia, the French company that is contracted to provide bus services in Phoenix, says the drivers in Phoenix are the highest paid in the southwestern US, with an hourly wage of $22.53. What needs to be considered with that number is that Phoenix is by far the largest city in the Southwest (and 6th largest city in the US) with a commensurate cost of living. And $22.53 seems like a lot, but it works out to just over $900 a week or $45,000 a year. Firmly in the middle class and nowhere near Mitt Romney (or Newt Gingrich or Barrack Obama for that matter) money. In fact, it would take a Veolia driver more than 480 years to make what Mitt made in 2010.

The Union says they're striking to force Veolia to the negotiating table. They've been working for almost two years without a contract and they allege that the company has not been negotiating in good faith.

There was a time in this country when unions were thought to be a good thing. People of a certain age might remember the old "Look for the Union Label" ads that were a fixture on television 30 years ago. Unions brought us the 40 hour work week and the rise of the middle class. All of those manufacturing jobs that presidential candidates of both parties want to bring back? Those used to be union jobs.

But in the last 35 years or so, coinciding with the rise of the radical right, unions have become public enemies. Arizona's legislature is debating some of the harshest anti-union legislation in the country this year. Wisconsin and Ohio, rather famously, passed draconian anti-labor legislation last year. At the same time that the states have declared war on labor, the salaries and perks of corporate leaders have skyrocketed. American Corporate CEO's now make more than 470 times what their workers make. (CEOs in Germany, the UK and France, all countries with stronger labor movements and more protections for working people make only 12 - 22 times what their workers make.)

I don't have a dog in this hunt. I'm not a member of a union, I've never been a member of a union. But that kind of pay discrepancy just doesn't seem moral. And I do appreciate the 40 hour week and other benefits workers before me have secured for people working today.

There are more photos from the picket line in my archive and available from ZUMA Press.