Throwing MARTA workers under the bus

Everyone learns from their mistakes — everyone except the MARTA Board. Their vote to privatize MARTA Mobility, the paratransit service that seniors and people with disabilities rely on each day, is a vote to repeat the mistakes of the past.

MARTA outsourced paratransit in the 1990s, but the service was so bad the board brought it back in-house.

Now, even though winter is a few weeks away, the board and CEO Keith Parker have pulled a snow job on the public, claiming that outsourcing paratransit will shore up finances by increasing efficiency and improving on-time performance.

They unfairly blame paratransit problems on their workers – who have already given back $90 million in concessions – accusing them of overtime abuse and absenteeism. Yet last week the U.S. Department of Labor found that, for a second time, MARTA has violated employees’ rights to take unpaid, job-protected leave for a qualifying medical or family issue under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

This move is nothing more than a scheme to dismantle and sell off MARTA, our public transit system, to the private company MV Transportation. MV’s goal is not to improve service or reduce costs. It is to further enrich wealthy executives, and gut transit service for Atlanta’s most vulnerable and beaten-down working people in our city.

MARTA continues to use a 2012 KPMG study report that recommended privatization to justify their scheme. They neglect to mention that the study was completely discredited in a report by Elliot Sclar, a specialist in the economics of public services, who demonstrated how KPMG’s conclusions are “based on false comparisons, illegitimate cost measures, and incomplete data.”

Incredibly, it was Parker who in a previous job commissioned a report sponsored by the Federal Transit Administration concluding that the quality and stability of privately operated paratransit service nationwide is extremely poor compared to service operated by in-house public agencies.

MARTA has not only failed to learn from its mistakes, but also from other cities that have outsourced transit without considering all of the implications.

Higher fares, massive service cuts and poor quality are the hallmarks of most private transit operations whose highest goal is profits, not service. The private companies’ selling point to cities is to provide savings by offering workers’ poverty wages, bare-bones healthcare, and no retirement security – deterring employees from remaining at transit agencies long enough to reach the top of the pay scale. This is about taking a professional workforce and turning it into a part-time job, not appropriate for an industry where employees are transporting our most vulnerable citizens each day. It is a recipe for worker and rider exploitation – not better transit.

Our union provided MARTA officials with a plan to reform the paratransit system to deal with the delays and scheduling issues plaguing the system. It focused on improving scheduling software; replacing and adding more vehicles; keeping drivers in zoned areas and reducing “deadhead” trips (trips without passengers aboard). Yet it fell on deaf ears at MARTA.

MARTA once lifted a generation of workers into the middle class. Now, MARTA is throwing those workers under the bus and leaving our city’s most vulnerable people to face an uncertain and unsafe future.

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Curtis Howard is president of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 732.