Guest Opinions

Guest Opinion: Transit and Teamsters are not “cozy”

Ben Franklin Transit fixed route bus service

Ben Franklin Transit provides public transportation throughout Benton and Franklin Counties, and has a service area with a population of approximately 228,992 residents.
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Ben Franklin Transit provides public transportation throughout Benton and Franklin Counties, and has a service area with a population of approximately 228,992 residents.

It was with great consternation that I opened my Sunday edition of the Tri-City Herald on June 2nd to discover, according to Mariya Frost, the Transportation Director for the Washington Policy Center, that Teamsters Local Union No. 839 has a “cozy relationship” with Ben Franklin Transit (BFT).

According to Ms. Frost, BFT executives and the Teamsters are “sitting on the same side of the negotiating table” and that we share a “close relationship” with the management team at BFT. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

It’s disappointing yet clear that the Washington Policy Center has an agenda and has chosen workers as their targets.

This organization’s goal is to roll back workers’ rights by undermining or even eliminating the unions that represent public sector workers. The targets of these attempts include public transit employees, school district employees, city, county, state employees, etc.

All one needs to do is Google their organization to discover that two of their most recent guest speakers at their forums are Scott Walker, the ex-governor of Wisconsin who led the national charge against public sector unions, and Nikki Haley, the ex-governor of South Carolina, a right-to-work state, where workers and their unions have limited rights.

If the Washington Policy Center has issues with the revenue collected by BFT, they have the right to their opinion, but trying to blame and shame the Teamsters for having “cozy” relationships with management, is completely false. Teamsters Local 839 will never apologize for bargaining strong labor agreements for our members — labor agreements that provide livable wages, health and welfare benefits, good retirements and pensions, and strong grievance procedures.

Labor unions are responsible for building the middle class in this country and bringing about advancements that provide safety on the job, paid time off, paid sick leave, and many other benefits that all workers deserve.

Local 839 does share a professional relationship with BFT due to over 30 years of representing workers at the Transit. In fact, we currently represent four bargaining units at the Transit: Dial-A-Ride (DAR), COACH Operations, the Maintenance Department, and we are proud to be negotiating a first contract for the DAR Dispatchers and Schedulers, a group recently organized by Local 839.

In fact, Teamsters continue to grow our membership; we recently organized the Administrative Assistants at BFT and soon will begin negotiating a first contract for that group of workers. Workers deserve to have a voice in their workplace, and Teamsters work every day to ensure that that voice is heard.

The hard-working men and women in the public sector are the backbone of our communities. These workers ensure that we live in a safe place where all families have the opportunity to thrive.

As Teamsters, we are proud to represent these public servants whether at the bargaining table or against the attacks of misguided special interest groups. When public sector workers are able to earn a living wage, good benefits, and work in safe conditions, we all benefit.

Russell Shjerven is the Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local Union No. 839. Local 839 represents more than 2100 private and public-sector workers in Benton, Franklin, and Walla Walla counties in the state of Washington, and in Umatilla county in the state of Oregon.