by Jonah McAllister-Erickson
The Amalgamated Transit Union is a crucial part of the solution Pittsburgh transportation crisis. It is because of the ATU — not in spite of it — that Pittsburgh has a safe and reliable mass transit system. It is because of the union that the women and men who clean, drive, and repair our buses are able to take pride in their work. Studies have shown that unionized workers are more able to get unsafe working conditions corrected, and that employer compliance with health and safety rules is much better when there are union safety representatives.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, driving a bus is one of the most hazardous jobs in the U.S. resulting in the most non-fatal injuries of any occupation. Before the formation of the ATU, trolley conductors worked year round exposed to the elements. Transit unions have been at the forefront of making mass transit safer, for both riders and drivers.
Unions are also vital to the health of the local economy. Workers who are in unions generally have more buying power than those who aren’t. Non-union bus drivers working for private companies often make less than $9 an hour, less than $19,000. The union enables transit workers to earn a decent wage, and results in a stable workforce committed to their jobs. On top of this, Pittsburgh’s bus drivers are able to have access to healthcare, something that would be five times less likely without a union.
The importance of union membership goes far beyond dollars and cents. Being a member of a union is about demanding dignity and respect at work. Unions also protect workers from employer retaliation when they speak out on issues. Study after study has shown that workers represented by unions are more likely to be aware of their rights, and therefore to insist on fair pay, safe working conditions, family medical leave, and workplaces free of discrimination. ATU Local 85 has been an important force in fighting for equality for transit riders and transit workers of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. It has played a vital role in helping to make our community a good place to live.
Because of their union, ATU members are not afraid to criticize policies of the Port Authority or government with which they disagree. Right now they are fighting for something they strongly believe in – good transit service for the people of Allegheny County. They are fighting for us, and we should all join them in this fight.
Jonah McAllister-Erickson is a library worker and bus rider.