King County, Wash., councilmembers question contract with Veolia union-busters

New YorkWW photo: Brenda Ryan

New York
WW photo: Brenda Ryan

Our regular readers know that the militant Boston school bus drivers union, USW Local 8751, has been combating a union-busting attack from Veolia and Transdev, the companies which took over the bus contract. Workers World reprints below a news release from ATU587, Transit Riders Union and Stop Veolia Seattle, that exposes more Veolia/Transdev anti-worker and anti-people wrongdoing in pursuit of profits.

Seattle, March 26 — Members of the King County Council have asked King County Executive Dow Constantine to reconsider the county’s contract with Veolia and Transdev for operation of Access paratransit bus service. On March 18, Chair Larry Phillips of the King County Council sent a letter to Constantine signed by the five Democrats of the nine-person Council, urging the executive to investigate “serious concerns for many aspects of Access service, including rider experience, labor protections and wages, and potential cost overruns to our government.”

According to Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond, signing with Veolia was supposed to save King County $1 million annually. But changes to the contract three years later approved an additional $7 million in annual costs incurred to King County.

“We thank the County Councilmembers for responding to our concerns and urging the County Executive to act,” said Katie Wilson, General Secretary of the Transit Riders Union. “We hope that Dow Constantine and Metro will act quickly and decisively to end their contract with Veolia/Transdev. Doing so will not only improve our community, it will send a strong message that union-busting multinational corporations seeking to privatize and operate our public goods and services for their own profit will not be tolerated in Martin Luther King Jr. County.”

The letter follows a resolution from September 2014 in which the Martin Luther King County Labor Council – local affiliate of the National AFL-CIO representing over 150 labor organizations and 75,000 workers – voted unanimously to pass a resolution to end the contract with Veolia, to preclude Veolia from bidding on future contracts, and to bring Metro Access in-house. The resolution was introduced by the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587.

According to Ninus Hopkins, ATU 587 Executive Board officer and Seattle Personal Transit driver, “The policies of Veolia are completely inconsistent with Executive Constantine’s stated objective of achieving equity and social justice in Martin Luther King Jr. County.”

The Access program provides ADA-mandated service for folks with disabilities and the elderly, but since Veolia Transportation took over the contract in 2008, Access users report that the service has deteriorated. Costs to the County have gone up by 30 percent, but Veolia/Transdev has cut training hours in half and cut back on vehicle maintenance. Access drivers report impossible scheduling of pickups, disrespectful scheduling of hours and low wages.

The March 1 fare increases, which make our public transportation among the most expensive in the country, hit Access users hardest. Fares went up twenty-five cents for all riders except Access users, whose fares increased by fifty cents and whose monthly pass cost increased by $17.

Veolia is under attack internationally from labor and human rights groups for a variety of anti-labor practices and flagrant human rights abuses, including profiteering off inflated water costs as the largest privatizer of water in the world.

Veolia is also suspected of “fraudulent misrepresentation” concerning the legal ownership changes attached to its name change and rebranding. In a July 15, 2014, letter to King County Department of Transportation in Washington State, Veolia Transportation wrote: “Veolia Transportation will be going through a name change and rebranding process. … There are no other changes — no changes in ownership, in management, or in any other aspect of our operations.”

But in fact, Veolia Transportation Services changed its name from that of a subsidiary wholly owned by Veolia Environnement to that of a new subsidiary wholly owned by Transdev, which is presently only 50 percent owned by Veolia Environnement and 50 percent owned by a French financial institution. (Veolia Environnement has since changed its name to Veolia Group.)

“The name change of the subsidiary from Veolia Transportation Services Inc., a Maryland company, to Transdev Services Inc., undeniably represents a change in ownership,” said Susan Koppelman of Stop Veolia Seattle, an emerging coalition of local groups and residents who practice solidarity for each other alongside resistance to the Veolia/Transdev contract. “This is a change that King County and all entities that were contracted with Veolia Transportation Services need to know about.”

If it is recognized that Transdev Services is a new entity, this suggests that when Veolia Transportation Services ceased to exist, all of its contracts should have been reopened to a public bidding process.

For more information, contact ­Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587, Norma Appel: 206-448-8588; Transit Riders Union, Katie Wilson: 206-781-7204; and Stop Veolia Seattle, Susan Koppelman: 617-775-4864.