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Labor Beat: The CTA Is Unfair To Workers And Riders

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Published on Mar 13, 2016

The campaign to get fired CTA bus driver Erek Slater back to work continued on March 9, 2016 outside the headquarters of Chicago Transit Authority in downtown Chicago. Since Slater (a union steward and elected Executive Board member of ATU 241) was illegally fired last February, his defense campaign has grown, getting support from unions as far away as Korea and Australia. At the same time, support has grown among Chicago unionists. Slater had taken seriously his duties as shop steward and defended a fellow worker whose rights were being abused by management, and for that management has sought to punish him.

Nicholas Kreitman, Erek's attorney, emphasized that "the City of Chicago has broken the contract it has with its union at CTA. The City of Chicago has broken labor law in terminating Erek for representing someone at his bus garage."

Slater's firing is a symptom of a much larger problem. Ayo Matt, a paratransit activist, said that disabled riders "face unsafe worker conditions which affect us...because we have an unelected CTA Board that does not understand the issues that are being brought forth here today...We will not tolerate them firing Erek Slater for speaking out...The riders of paratransit are faced with over-worked drivers...We know that all of this is corrupt, it's illegal, and disabled people will not be silenced."

"What does it look like when 90% of the ATU are underpaid, over-worked poor Black families," asked, Johnae Strong of BYP 100. "What does it mean when they have spaces where they cannot air grievances, where they cannot have paid sick days, where they have to fight to support their families? And when they do they are reprimanded or, worse, they are off the job." Strong continued: "Violence happens when the funds and the revenue and the taxes that we pay are allocated to things that do harm to us, that keep us away from serving our families...from getting what we need as individuals...from doing the jobs that make this city run, and we're supposed to do it as if we are machines, as if we were only doing the bidding of those who would rather be putting the money in each other's pockets." BYP 100 is "dedicated to fight for racial justice as it connects to economic justice because we know that those two things are extremely tied together."

Among teachers union members who spoke was Debbie Pope: "The attack on Erek...is an attack on unionists all over the country, all over the world, and it's an attack on the rights of working people hard fought for centuries, to organize, to protect ourselves, and to defend the fight for a decent standard of living."

Howard Ehrman, who is an occupational medicine physician, made some tactical recommendations: "What has to happen in this city is a grand alliance, like the postal workers are doing, among all the public worker unions, the CTU brothers and sisters here, and everybody who uses the schools, the post offices, public transit. CTU wrote a great paper called The Schools That Our Children Deserve. What we need to do is the same thing with public transit. Everyone here needs to fight to get Erek's job back as soon as possible, and everyone of his brothers and sisters who have been illegally fired and disciplined by the CTA."

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