Rochester, N.Y., transit workers rally against union busting, racist bus cuts

Transit workers in Rochester, N.Y., May 7.WW photo: Lydia Bayoneta

Transit workers in Rochester, N.Y., May 7.
WW photo: Lydia Bayoneta

Rochester, N.Y. — More than 300 members and supporters of Local 282 of the Amalgamated Transit Workers militantly marched and picketed on May 7 at the Rochester Genesee Regional Transit Authority headquarters. They held signs and chanted, “It’s not fair!  It’s not right! Fire Bill Carpenter tonight!”  and “They say cut back! We say fight back!” Protesters barged into a scheduled RGRTA meeting after picketing for several hours.

The loud protests were directed at transit authority CEO Bill Carpenter, who on April 28 abruptly decided to discontinue transporting Rochester public school students on city buses. He took this action without even holding a Board of Commissioners vote! In addition to callously stranding 9,000 mostly Black and Latino/a school students, this arbitrary move would cause 144 layoffs — more than 40 percent of Rochester’s transit workforce.

In announcing his anti-union, anti-student move, Carpenter resorted to racist rhetoric.  He claimed that his decision was due to “student violence” at the brand new, taxpayer-financed downtown terminal. (RGRTA website, April 28)  He did not mention that the drivers and the transit authority are in the middle of contract negotiations.

Local 282 President Jacques Chapman and Vice President Domminck Zarcone fired back at Carpenter, accusing him of “reckless” behavior, leaving “the high school students in the lurch.” (Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, May 9) They pointed out that 7,000 of the students currently being served do not even go through the  downtown terminal and that the Rochester City School District strongly opposes the cancellation of the decades-long service.

The same article quotes Chapman and Zarcone, saying, “RGRTA now potentially faces [Federal Transit Administration] claims that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act has been violated by cutting service in a way which manifests an unlawful discriminatory practice.”

Rochester has the third-highest rate of child poverty in the entire country. The public schools are almost totally segregated and chronically underfunded, while the teachers and their unions have been subjected to an unrelenting torrent of blame and abuse.

At the same time that it is cutting its workforce, RGRTA is pursuing several multimillion-dollar expansion projects and paying for them with federal, state and local subsidies. All of them utilize “eminent domain” laws to force residents out of their homes.

With this latest move, Carpenter and his politician and big business cronies have clearly shown their hand. They are attempting to destroy both the public school system and union rights won by the workers — while further slandering and isolating Rochester’s oppressed youth.