Rapid drivers, mechanics storm out of board meeting during CEO pay raise discussion

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Roughly 100 Rapid bus drivers and mechanics showed up at a Wednesday evening executive board meeting amidst a labor dispute to change their pension plan to a completely different retirement plan.

Tensions ran high at the Wednesday night meeting, with union members abruptly leaving when the executive board moved to talk about a proposed pay raise for Rapid Transit System CEO Peter Varga.

The union's contract expired in June, and negotiations have stalled as the Rapid's management has threatened to eliminate retirement security for drivers and mechanics.   Earlier this week, the union filed a lawsuit against management, saying they violated first and fourteenth amendment rights when they threatened to fire those who talked about the labor dispute.

A federal judge on Tuesday ruled that union members could protest and distribute flyers to passengers about the dispute.

Union members gathered outside the Rapid headquarters in Grand Rapids, chanting "We Are the City" as they waited for the executive board to make a decision about the proposed retirement plan changes.

"We came here to talk about a real issue for me, and I think you heard all the heartfelt testimony.  This is about pension security, something they are looking to strip from us," said Richard Jackson, president and business agent for the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 836. "They shifted from that to approving a pay increase for Peter Varga."

Varga has rejected the talks of pay increase and benefits.  The executive board is not commenting on the matter because of ongoing negotiations.


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