At Convention, ATU Offers Vision for 21st Century Transit and a Just Economy

*Courtesy of the Amalgamated Transit Union Dispatch* 

“Together we fight” and “together, we win!” That call and response echoed across the U.S. and Canada this week as hundreds of delegates of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) gathered in Las Vegas for their 59th convention. 

ATU delegates laid out their strategic vision to build power for transit workers and riders, address autonomous vehicles and the rise of transportation network companies, keep public services like transit in public hands, and advance bold economic reforms like the Medicare for All Act of 2019.

ATU embraced its reputation as one of the most progressive unions in the U.S. and Canada, with delegates overwhelmingly passing resolutions backing Green New Deal legislation; advancing gender equity on the job and within the union; supporting the Medicare for All Act of 2019, the Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, the Transit Worker and Pedestrian Protection Act, and re-authorization of the FAST Act; demanding respect for the right to organize in Canadian provincial laws; and fighting for a federal transit plan in Canada along with a federal bill to protect bus operators from assault.

The more than 640 delegates also faced head on the drastic shifts that technology and new business models have brought to the transportation industry. They passed resolutions calling for greater regulation of transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft; pushing for requirements that all such companies serve all riders—especially those in urban and rural transit deserts and people with disabilities; demanding high safety standards for automated vehicles; and demanding that transitions to automation include continuing benefits and training for displaced workers.

On Thursday delegates representing more than 200,000 ATU members elected John Costa as International President and re-elected Javier Perez as International Executive Vice President and Oscar Owens as International Secretary-Treasurer. After serving as an International Vice President since 2010, Costa assumed the position of ATU International President in May 2019, following the unexpected and tragic death of late International President Lawrence J. Hanley.

“I'm honored to stand here today. I am honored,” said Costa as the delegates chanted ‘Costa, Costa, Costa’ after he was elected. “But the energy that you give me to do this job is remarkable. This is a great union. We are one big family. And I just want to recognize and thank everyone here for your support. It's just been a remarkable week.”

Also re-elected by delegates were eighteen International Vice Presidents Richard Murphy, Janis Borchardt, Paul Bowen, Kenneth Kirk, Marcellus Barnes, Ray Rivera, Yvette Trujillo, Gary Johnson, Robin West, Chuck Watson, Bruce Hamilton, Michelle Sommers, Jim Lindsay, Manny Sforza, John Callahan, Curtis Howard, Natalie Cruz, and Anthony Garland.

Delegates were addressed by Democratic candidates U.S. President including U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg. They also heard from Matthew Green, a rising progressive candidate for parliament in Canada’s NDP Party; Sara Nelson, International President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA; and several union and nonprofit leaders from across the U.S. and Canada.

“Bus drivers and transit workers should not have to fear being stabbed, being shot at or being abused when they are on the job,” U.S. Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders said in a live stream post to chants of ‘Bernie, Bernie, Bernie’. “And as president, I will do everything I can to make sure that [transit agencies] have the funding they need to ensure the safety and the well‑being of bus drivers and transit workers.”

“I want you to know that if I have the honor of being elected your president, you'll have no stronger friend, no more reliable partner, no better advocate in the White House than me,” former Vice President Joe Biden told delegates in a video message. “I'll stand with you in the fight. I'll stand next to you in the fight. I'll stand behind you because I know how hard you've had to fight to defend the rights you have earned.”

“I appreciate the work that ATU has been doing for over 125 years,” South Bend, Indiana Mayor Peter Buttigieg told delegates in a video message to delegates. “As someone who's been proud to stand with labor throughout my career and as someone who's doing a lot of travel these days, I have a profound appreciation for the transit workers who operate our buses, tune up our trains and make sure that bags get to where they need to go. And I was proud to stand with ATU striking Martha's Vineyard bus drivers as you continued to push to be treated fairly.”

“We believe that transit is a right. That mobility in an urban center is a right and we’ll fight for that right,” Canadian NDP candidate Matthew Green declared to delegates. “We will fight… But we can't do it alone, which is why solidarity is the single most important thing to overcome the isolation of the work that we do.”

“We need your vision, your passion, your creativity, and your leadership. Spread the word that unions are for everyone, and if you are done with poverty, build your union,” International President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA Sara Nelson told candidates in a rousing address. “If you want to stop to attacks on transit workers, build your Union… If you want a green economy that saves our planet and creates good union jobs, build your union.”