DDOT bus driver strike violates Michigan law

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has responded to the ongoing strike of bus drivers Saturday afternoon, saying he hasn’t “gotten a single complaint or request from the leaders of the drivers union” expanding on their concerns on security in the past four months.

While there are concerns on safety, Duggan said the strike is also in response to the discipline of a driver’s reaction to a passenger not wearing a mask. Because of this, he said, the strike violates contract law.

Detroit bus drivers have been on strike since Friday, saying the Detroit Department of Transportation had failed to protect employees from COVID-19 and assaults. Some of these assaults were over mask-related disputes, with passengers lashing out when being asked to put on protective face-coverings. 

“They are fed up with ongoing assaults, threats by angry riders refusing to wear masks, and other safety concerns while (Detroit Department of Transportation) officials are doing nothing to provide any protection at all,” Glenn Tolbert, President of Amalgamated Transit Union in Detroit said in a news release. “Way before the pandemic even began, we had demanded the agency provide us with police protection, training, emergency communication, and other safety measures.” 

Duggan said he met with the union four months ago in response to their safety concerns and replied with installing security doors next to drivers. He said the union had signed off on the design of the doors, recalling that they were pleased with the results. Duggan also said Detroit buses also have cameras installed to track and prosecute assaults.  

“So when you don’t hear from the unions that there is an issue, it’s a little surprising when you get up on Friday morning and find out they just didn’t show up for work, stranding people all over the city without notice,” he said. 

More: Fearful of the pandemic and threats from riders, Detroit’s bus drivers refuse to work

More: Driver who said woman coughed on his bus has died of coronavirus

“We initiated discussions with DDOT early this morning in hopes of finding real solutions,” Tolbert said. “Instead DDOT offered inadequate half-measures, leaving bus drivers and riders exposed to violence on buses and COVID-19.”

Duggan also said the strike was in response to a driver’s suspension. 

Tolbert said the driver was fired for acting in self-defense when a passenger became violent after being asked to wear a mask. Duggan said the found the video of the incident “disturbing”, adding DDOT’s response was appropriate. 

According to Duggan, the individual did not wear a mask when entering the bus. When asked where his mask was, the passenger covered his face with a piece of clothing. The driver did not start the bus, which prompted the passenger to cross the line and ask why the bus was going. Duggan said the passenger’s actions were inappropriate. He did not expand on the driver’s response, but said “(i)t wasn’t go back to your seat, it wasn’t stay back behind the line.”

The driver, he said, is in the middle of due process and can file an appeal. Then he will be able to go through independent arbitration

“But it appears that the union leaders have taken the position that if the suspension is not rescinded immediately, they’re not going back to work,” Duggan said. “Number one, it’s illegal when it violates the contract. I mean, we have a contract that says that if you’re suspended, you have appeal rights and arbitration. And basically, the position they’re taking is that they don’t really care about that. They want it to stop now.”

Duggan said he had responsibility for drivers and passengers and that the strike halts accountability for the drive. Duggan said he is open to sitting down with union leaders about issues of safety. 

Director of DDOT Mikel Oglesby said drivers are doing an incredible job but due process’s outcome will be the “right one”.

“Unfortunately, this situation causes for due process. I have to go by the contract and what’s put in front of me,” Oglesby said. “Apparently, that’s not good enough. We have to continue on this path and do the right thing.”

“I assure you that I’m in the middle of taking a very good look, not only at the video but all of the surrounding issues around the situation that mainly a lot don’t know about.”

Oglesby requested drivers to get back to work and sit down with the mayor.

“This is the first time in 30 years I’ve ever seen a union do a work stoppage in violation of their contract over a discipline issue,” Duggan said. “I’m hoping their lawyers will advise them that their action breaks state law.”

Tolbert said on Friday the drivers hate to “inconvenience the public,” but, the shutdown is a “necessary evil.”

“We’ve been risking our lives since this pandemic began and have lost countless brothers to this deadly virus,” Tolbert said in the release. “We’ve been dealing with brutal attacks, abuse, threats, and other safety concerns for many years. It’s time for DDOT to step up and come up with real solutions to protect us and our riders today, not tomorrow.”

Nisa Khan is a data intern for the Detroit Free Press. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @mnisakhan. Freep reporter Frank Witsil contributed to this report.

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