Students, union stage action at city meeting
A Tuesday Grand Rapids City Commission meeting ended in an abrupt and unusual fashion after a group in local union shirts during public comment staged a 'lie-in' and chant.
They continued as the meeting was called to a close, and officials and attendees began to filter out the doors.
Lindsey Disler is a senior at Grand Valley and an organizer with the school’s United Students Against Sweatshops chapter, which coordinated the action. Students and union membership were both in attendance.
She says it’s in solidarity with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 836, which represents employees of the Rapid bus line. And she draws similarities between the union fight and college students like herself.
"All of the labor force – it’s all connected," Disler says. "And we are going to graduate into a labor market where one of the highest groups of unemployment is people between their 20’s and 30’s."
Commissioner Senita Lenear, filling in for Mayor George Heartwell, moved to close the meeting after asking the group to stop and allow public comment to continue.
Officials called the action disruptive and not productive. Others in line behind the group waiting to speak on separate matters ended up unable to do so.
Contract negotiations between ATUGR and Rapid leadership broke down this summer, stemming in part from a board proposal changing employee pensions from a defined benefit to a contribution model.
A lawsuit was also filed by ATUGR in late August alleging employees were illegally blocked from handing out flyers critical of Rapid leadership.
A contract between the ATUGR and Rapid transit system expired about two months ago following a 60-day extension.
The situation received brief national attention after U.S. Senator and Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders wrote a letter in support of the union.