Organized opposition emerges to MARTA’s proposed restructuring, privatization of some jobs

By David Pendered

Opponents of the expansive legislative proposal to remake MARTA’s governance structure and privatize jobs took to the streets Thursday and say they collected about a thousand signatures supporting their view.

A petition drive to oppose an effort in the Legislature to reorganize MARTA netted about 1,000 signatures, organizers said. Credit: Rory Gordon

A petition drive to oppose an effort in the Legislature to reorganize MARTA netted about 1,000 signatures, organizers said. Credit: Rory Gordon

The protest movement now consists of three entities: MARTA’s union; the national union office in Washington, D.C.; and Georgians for Better Transit.

The transit group is a state affiliate of Americans for Transit, of which former MARTA GM Beverly Scott serves as a director. The national group’s website says it is a grassroots group of transit riders and advocates who seek to secure transit funding.

House Bill 264 provides 18 revisions to MARTA’s management structure, and it calls for privatizing some jobs. The bill draws from a management study MARTA’s board hired KPMG to complete. The report was delivered last autumn.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven), chairman of the legislature’s oversight committee for MARTA – MARTOC.

The coalition suggests alternatives that do not involve privatization or the sweeping reorganization of MARTA’s management structure. Just two steps cited by Jim Callaghan, a strategic campaign representative from the Amalgamated Transit Union, are:

  • Renegotiate fuel contracts for the bus fleet;
  • Renegotiate electrical contracts for the trains.
MARTA union members and transit advocates gathered signatures at the Five Points Station. Credit: Rory Gordon

MARTA union members and transit advocates gathered signatures at the Five Points Station. Credit: Rory Gordon

“We don’t believe MARTA is broke, that’s what it comes down to,” Callaghan said. “If we’re going to be fair [about restructuring MARTA], there should be equal pain – not just for the workers.”

Curtis Howard, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local No. 732, said senior management should do a better job of managing resources, including collecting fares from each rider for each trip, and figuring out a way to get a return from vacant property MARTA owns near stations.

“Appropriate the money correctly, and make sure the fares are being collected,” Howard said. “I would say they are top heavy, and have too many managers making high salaries. Too many layers of management causes you to increase benefit levels.”

Ashley Robbins, campaign coordinator for Georgians for Better Transit, brought up the state funding issue. Robbins said it’s not fair for MARTA to receive little state support, at a time the state is funding GRTA’s Xpress buses in order to serve people who ride by choice, not because they are dependent on public transit.

“We’ve got to find some source of funding, and beating up on the union is not going to fix everything,” Robbins said. “Privatization won’t fix everything. It won’t bring cost-saving in to make MARTA the kind of system a city like Atlanta deserves.”

On Thursday, coalition members worked in and around MARTA’s Five Points Station and collected about 1,000 signatures on a petition it intends to present to the Senate.

The petition asks the Senate to stop HB 264, and the plan is to deliver it to the Senate Transportation Committee. The House approved the bill Feb. 21 by a vote of 113 to 57.

The transit group started a web page this year that has a widget tailored to fight the legislation. The viewer can enter a ZIP code, and the widget generates an email to the appropriate senator. The letter concludes:

  • “I urge you to vote against [House Bill] 264 and keep the ‘public’ in Atlanta’s public transportation system!”

In October, Scott told lawmakers that unions, in her experiences across the country, have always been reasonable partners. MARTA’s union is no different, said Scott, who now oversees Boston’s major transit system.

In January, MARTA GM Keith Parker told the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce in January that he intends to privatize some jobs. He said MARTA will, “handle it as humanely as possible.”

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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