Grieving Transit Local Has Been Leading Fights for Safety and Service Restoration
We join the whole labor movement in mourning the nine brothers and sisters from Transit (ATU) Local 265 and SEIU Local 521 who were killed on May 26 in a mass shooting at a workplace union meeting.
At an emotional candlelight vigil last night at San Jose city hall, Local 265 President John Courtney—who was meeting with members when the shooting broke out—told the crowd: “Hold each other, love each other, hug each other. Kiss each other when you get home from the end of the day. We’re all we’ve got.
“These aren’t names to us. These are people we know, and we love, and we’ve seen every single day of our working lives, and it really, really hurts down to the very core of our souls. So please, ATU, let’s do what we do and stand with each other, for each other, by each other.”
Nationally it’s the third workplace shooting in two months, which is unusually high.
This particular local has been important in waging fights on behalf of transit workers and riders across the entire San Francisco Bay Area. The union fought with the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) to restore fare-free rear-door boarding in January, when Covid cases were spiking in San Jose. Rank-and-file bus drivers forced management’s hand when they started planning to stop boarding at the front door whether the agency agreed or not.
After that victory, Courtney said his union’s 1,500 members had “seen with their own eyes how important it is to be unified within our union, and to have the support of other unions and the community to win what we need.”
That victory inspired a bigger current campaign that has united six Bay Area transit locals with their riders to fight for the immediate release of $1.7 billion in transit rescue funds. Courtney told Labor Notes after a May 6 rally, “It means a lot that the community has our back.”
FIGHTING FOR SAFETY
Throughout the pandemic, Local 265 has forced a reluctant VTA to adopt a variety of Covid safety measures, like handing out masks to riders and offering on-site Covid testing and vaccination to workers.
Around the U.S. and Canada, at least 152 members of ATU have died of Covid.
Just days before the shooting, VTA had announced it was reducing social distancing on transit to three feet (instead of six).
Transit agencies in the region already tried this once, last August—until resistance from the coalition of transit unions and riders forced them to stick to six feet.
In a statement responding to the latest three-foot decree, Courtney pointed out that “putting more riders on each bus or train will not solve the continuing problem of long waits at the bus stop, and will not eliminate rider pass-ups” (where people waiting to board are “passed up” because the bus is already full).
Instead, the union is pushing for a real solution: restoring bus and train service to pre-pandemic levels—“not by a year from July, as VTA intends, but by this Fall,” Courtney wrote.
And he mentioned that the agency’s “lip service to the heroism of our frontline transit workers still has not translated into any kind of hazard or hero compensation.”