Rapid drivers picket for higher wages


GVL / Sydney Lim

Jack Blake, Staff Writer

The Rapid buses serve Grand Valley State University’s students who use the Laker Line with routes to off-campus housing and throughout the Grand Rapids area.

In October 2022, The Rapid bus technicians received a raise, while the operators of the buses did not. Last week, a group of drivers employed by The Rapid picketed outside of the central station for The Rapid buses. All unionized drivers that work for The Rapid are in the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 836. This includes the drivers that serve GVSU students.

“The ATU leadership did not discuss their rally or the reasons for the rally with the leadership team of The Rapid,” said Cassi Cooper, an engagement and digital outreach specialist for The Rapid. “The Rapid and ATU have regular labor and management meetings, as well as regular safety committee meetings. Each of those meetings was held within the last seven business days and the ATU did not raise any specific issues related to their safety or mistreatment.”

The Rapid administrators said the wage increase specifically for technicians was “based on a market analysis which determined they needed to pay more to attract and keep technical trade workers.” Administrators felt they needed to increase pay for technicians to keep them from leaving, but the analysis did not show the same for drivers. 

Additionally, Cooper said there are two pending Unfair Labor Practice suits that are scheduled to be administratively adjudicated by the Michigan Employee Relations Commission (MERC), one of which is related to the recent wage changes. The other is a dispute with the union using non-employees to uphold union bulletins on The Rapid premises. 

With regards to these pending suits, Cooper said “The Rapid denies any unfair labor practices occurred in either instance.”

Melvin Turnbo, the president of ATU Local 836, said in a statement to WZZM 13 On Your Side that drivers of The Rapid that work routes across the city of Grand Rapids face lots of dangerous situations and often violent encounters on their buses. Turnbo said the drivers would like to see a change in the safety precautions for themselves and other passengers as well as a wage increase. 

GVSU students who use The Rapid also stand to be impacted by drivers’ working conditions. Transportation is an essential part of students’ lives with the bussing system taking students to and from GVSU’s Allendale and Pew Campuses. 

Many bus drivers were asked for a comment on the situation and most of the drivers of the Laker Line declined to comment. Despite this, they did know of the picketing and the issues being debated. One driver said drivers “aren’t allowed to do anything like that.” 

There has been no wage increase to drivers as of yet and there has been no picketing since the initial occurrence on Jan. 25.