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Michigan mayor forced out of Labor Day bridge walk

By Tom Burke

Transit workers stand up to union busting in Grand Rapids, MI.

Grand Rapids, MI — Union bus drivers gathered 40 people at the West Michigan Labor Fest, Sept. 4, to confront Mayor Rosalyn Bliss of Grand Rapids about her role in union busting. Mayor Bliss was set to speak at the nearby kickoff of the Labor Day bridge walk. That is, until a group of ATU Local 836 bus drivers and their supporters emerged from the crowd of walkers and confronted Bliss. They chanted, “Union busting is disgusting!” Bliss quickly moved back into the waiting walkers.

With the trade unionists and a “Labor solidarity” banner at the front, the walk proceeded for a half mile on to the Michigan Street Bridge where the union protesters halted. As Mayor Bliss approached they surrounded her chanting “Scab! Scab! Scab!” and “We want a contract!”

The disruption of the walk was too much for the mayor, and a visibly shaken Bliss jogged away towards a police officer. The union protesters crossed the street to the opposite corner and rallied as the rest of the walkers passed by. Some walkers asked, “Why are you ruining our community walk?” while others gave thumbs up or shouted, “We support you!”

ATU 836 union president RiChard Jackson said, “We have been working for more than two years without a contract. There are no wage increases. We pay the full freight on the health care and come October it increases up to $800 per month.”

“Well we made Bliss go home. We are going to stick around and maybe have a couple of beers,” said Louis DeShane, as the protesters prepared to return to the Labor Fest.

DeShane was arrested at a local transit board on August 30. He was denouncing the $4500 merit bonus for the CEO of the Rapid bus system. DeShane called for, “No contract! No vote!” because CEO Peter Varga is doing away with pensions, demanding workers pay more out of pocket for health care, and trying to take away overtime.

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