Published 08 May, 2014
“Tuesday marked a decisive victory for TWU Local 171 and public transit riders in three Michigan communities,” said TWU International President Harry Lombardo. Nearly 14,000 Michiganders turned out at the polls to vote yes on the only item on Tuesday’s special election ballot—the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority’s 0.7-mill tax proposal to expand local transit services. The funding increase will create new TWU-represented union jobs in public transit, bring much-needed bus service to underserved communities, and alleviate dangerous overcrowding.
As part of a broad coalition, Local 171 President Delisa Brown and Maintenance Vice President Mike Schultz led TWU volunteers in an all-out campaign to promote the millage and get out the vote. For many members, employees of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, that meant phone-banking throughout all of April and knocking on door after door in their neighborhoods. Early on, the TWU International got behind the campaign, providing funding to support the Local’s work on the ground.
“The membership got out and made the campaign work with the help of the International, the CLC, and the State AFL-CIO,” said International Vice President Carl Martin, who pounded the pavement with local volunteers in Ann Arbor. “It’s important that our locals see that when the International asks them to get active in their communities—that we then support the locals in their efforts with manpower, campaign funds, materials—whatever they need to be successful.”
The tax millage will generate an estimated $3.4 million in Ann Arbor, $202,730 in Ypsilanti and $778,207 in Ypsilanti Township annually, and will fund the implementation of the AATA’s five-year transit improvement plan. That plan includes more than 90,000 hours of additional fixed-route bus service in the county’s urban core, including about 57,000 in Ann Arbor, more than 8,500 in Ypsilanti, and over 9,400 in Ypsilanti Township.
“Voters supported the tax in a 71% landslide,” said Local 171 President Delisa Brown. “That’s a credit to the strength of our campaign, and shows the type of support we’ve built in the community and the value that TWU members bring.”
“I expect that by the end of the year, we’re going to have significantly more members in our bargaining unit. The new service will start at the end of August, and our new members will be trained and ready by that time. We’re going to get more drivers, more mechanics, and more service crew.”
The campaign confronted strong organized opposition led by a group that in recent months defeated tax millages to support the local library and public schools. “Our coalition, Partners for Transit, and the More Buses campaign was very strong,” said Local 171 Member Chai Montgomery. “Our forces came together from every kind of community group — from unionized workers to church groups, library boards, the Huron Valley Central Labor Council, the Michigan State AFL-CIO, homeless shelters, and environmental groups.”
“The support of the International made a huge difference in the campaign,” said Delisa. “I am very grateful to Harry and the IAC for having enough confidence and faith in our local to support us and to donate money to make our campaign successful. For our efforts to culminate in victory, it’s a great feeling. It made me very happy and very proud to be a member of TWU.”
For organized labor in Michigan, the campaign victory has helped to cement a powerful coalition, which will carry momentum into the August primary. “We got many more people to the polls than anyone expected for an off-cycle election,” said Delisa. “We’re going to continue working with the AFL-CIO to make sure that we achieve the same success we did with this funding proposal to get labor-friendly candidates elected in August.”