Written by Erek Slater, 7/1/20
Yesterday, workers were able to stop management from calling the police to have me removed from the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) bus garage where I work. Workers have elected me to be their shop steward and union Executive Board member for over six years and three terms. However, also yesterday, CTA gave us notice that on Tuesday, July 7 they are planning to unjustly fire me from my job as a city bus driver of 14 years. They are trying to fire me, again, because they don’t like my “behavior.” They falsely claim that I led a “wildcat strike” when I read the Amalgamated Transit Union International statement [linked below] in support of bus drivers right to refuse to drive police to confront demonstrations against racist state murder. They don’t want workers to discuss our views together and they certainly don’t want us to do so in an organized, effective way – such as through workers’ unions.
Overcoming a great deal of fear and intimidation, two coworkers and myself testified under oath during the first round of a federal lawsuit against the CTA for breaking our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech. Preliminarily, the court ruled that our speech was not protected by the Constitution partly because it wasn’t “of public interest.” What was that? Public bus drivers discussing the use of public buses to transport police and national guard to militarily confront public protests against racist state murder isn’t “of public interest”?! The Chicago Tribune [linked below] and national and international news organizations [links below] seem to think it was of enough public interest to publish… The city may try to drag the lawsuit out. We are asking our community allies to make full use of this lawsuit to find out exactly what unelected CTA managers and city officials are doing to and against transit workers with “public” money. If their goal was to remove the workers’ union from the workplace, we are making it clear that it will take more than firing a union steward to do that.
Yesterday, workers held many legally protected union meetings on CTA property in defiance of the city’s threats against us. Most workers were as careful as possible to keep safe distances and have masks, etc. Some of the topics of discussion included CTA removing most of the buses used to help bus operators find a place to shelter from the elements and use the bathroom when many places we normally use are closed because of the pandemic. The top manager of the garage – the one who called me an “idiot” and is trying to fire me – told workers that upper management told him it costs too much money to continue to provide us with the buses we need. Yet we still haven’t been told whose pockets the over $800,000,000 in federal money is going. It’s not going to front-line transit workers (believe me, we are checking our paychecks!). If we are over 60 years old or have serious underlying medical conditions, we were told that we could stay at home with pay for as long as a doctor ordered us to do so. Then they cut it off and are forcing us back on the bus – even while at the same time they are threatening to lay us off?! How does that make sense; how is that in the “public interest?” We are also out of contract and CTA isn’t negotiating with the union – even though it’s a simple matter to talk over video, etc.
Yesterday, workers also discussed the June 21 change in CTA policy where rear-door boarding was ended. Rear-door boarding was instituted to try to limit exposure to the virus for the bus operators. Workers said the ending of rear-door boarding was too early and unsafe, especially with the numbers of COVID-19 cases raising to over 10,000,000 worldwide, the US being the center of it and many states increasing in cases and deaths. It was confirmed that 5 CTA workers in just my union have died. At least 7 family members from just my bus garage have died – and that is just what workers have told me directly – I believe it is much higher. No one is gathering and publishing the relevant statistics so workers can demand the proper safety measures be taken, NOW, and hold accountable those who hold positions of power. Yes, CTA is trying to fleece working people of $2.50 bus fare – even though very little of public transit funding comes from the farebox. Harassing working people for $2.50 is the main reason they are ending rear door boarding and endangering all of us. However, some workers are concerned that the rear-door boarding has increased the number of people riding during the pandemic, especially the homeless, because no fare has been collected. Can our community allies help us demand more services for people without homes? Why cannot bankrupt hotels be taken over and run for public need? Isn’t there mass unemployment and need for good union-scale jobs for public services such as housing, health care, elder-care, child-care, schools and needed infrastructure, etc.?
To do any of this, working people need to maintain and build on our democratic rights to speak, to organize and to act in the interests of our communities. That is why we are fighting so hard. Thank you to all the workers, activists and unionists from around the world who have joined this campaign. Join us!
Here are some ways you can help:
1. Join our Facebook Page for updates and next actions:
2. Sign the petition and ask others to sign it:
3. If you know anyone who can help provide legal support, please contact us
Links for more information:
• Bus Driver Sues CTA, Says He was Suspended After Discussing Concerns About Transporting Cops During George Floyd Protests – Chicago Tribune:
• Amalgamated Transit Union International statement about the misuse of public transit and bus drivers’ right to refuse to drive police to protests of George Floyd’s murder:
• Slater Crisis and the Union Movement – Worker’s Voice:
• A Chicago Bus Driver Says He Was Retaliated Against for His Opposition to Transporting Police to Protests – Jacobin Magazine:
• Interview in Brazilian Labor Federation news: (in English)
• Speech at June 8 rank-and-file speak out and press conference:
Apple Podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/…/labor-express-ra…/id1485158049…
Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/episode/6SgBDhyzyPwsr9JxVq1ZLf Archive.org:https://archive.org/…/erek-slater-and-attorney-press-confer…
• Press conference from when they fired me four years ago (we won my job back through an international campaign):