Los Angeles subway bicycle transport workers unionize
Many workers were surprised to learn that Bicycle Transit Systems (BTS), the operator of Metro’s Bike Share program, was distributing PPE masks intended for them. “When the pandemic started, they were going to give all of our masks to a care facility while we are frontline workers ourselves and that is our only protection,” said a BTS employee, who as d other employees cited in this story, asked to stay. anonymous for fear of reprisals.
For many workers, masks were the last straw. They were on the ground, often interacting with the public, and understandably concerned about safety during a time when LA was at the center of the pandemic.
“The last year has really put the spotlight and highlighted the disconnect in the business. This meant that they couldn’t hide it anymore, ”the employee said. “They were jumping on the bandwagon with other companies, without thinking about our best interests.”
In an effort to defend their interests, BTS employees have formed a union. Earlier in June, they officially filed a case, but management has so far refused to voluntarily recognize the union.
Bicycle Transit Systems workers and supporters of their unionization gathered on Saturday June 26 for a solidarity hike. Two dozen riders, most on Metro Bikes, rang bells and whistles in an attempt to draw attention to their battle for unionization as they cycled from Union Station to Donut Friend, where the workers are also fighting for union recognition.
Employees see a gulf at BTS between office workers and workers doing the physical labor of operating the bike-sharing program. “There is a big disconnect between the people who had to sit at home during the pandemic and those who do all the physical labor,” an employee said.
“We have a floor and a ground floor in our warehouse,” said another employee. “It’s like a startup that has its warehouse there. We can see that the paradigm is so different in the way we operate. Often times they speak for all of us when they talk about what they want.
Warehouse and field workers aren’t necessarily excited about the startup paradigm. “The startup culture is something we are reluctant on. The main innovation of many startups is undercutting [wages]”said the employee.
These wages are at the center of the union campaign. A key issue for the dozen or so employees Knock spoke to was the lack of increases related to experience or seniority in the company. Over time, workers would receive adjustments to their market pay, but those adjustments were also applied to new hires, meaning new hires and veterans earned very similar wages.
In a message to colleagues, an employee with more than five years of experience expressed his frustrations:
“I just realized how exploited I am. The starting salary for a West Side Field Technician is $ 18 / hour. I make $ 18.35 an hour while taking training and being exposed to exponentially worse conditions in Downtown LA vs. Santa Monica. I do mechanical work in the field, I am asked to do mechanical work in the warehouse, I am exposed to human feces, needles and other garbage and I only get 0.35 cents more? WTF “
Bicycle Transit Systems employees want a compensation structure that rewards experienced employees for the time they have given to the company, and compensates them for the toll that physical labor takes on their health. “There should be a clear and distinct salary that says ‘you’ve been here for years, you’ve sacrificed your body, you’ve taken risks and we appreciate you,'” said an employee helping to organize the union campaign.
They also fear that efforts to give transit system employees a voice in the company’s culture and vision have left operations employees behind. Many BTS employees participate in volunteer committees focused on safety, the environment, or other issues of importance to the company and its employees. “The people here who are doing the operations, they are not involved in that,” said one employee. “They don’t have the opportunity to be visible like people in office type jobs… We see people at work who really benefit from active participation in terms of getting promotions or favorable reviews.
Knock has contacted Bicycle Transit Systems and Metro for comment, but has not received a response at the time of posting.
BTS employees got a boost from City Councilor Mike Bonin, who tweeted “I stand in solidarity with the workers who organize @BikeMetro. Like any public transit, the self-service bicycle must offer its workers a rewarding career path. Attracting and retaining the right workers means better service and better reliability. It is a win-win solution for workers and riders.
Bicycle Transit Systems employees value the culture of the company. Its management team is diverse and employees at all levels have a deep connection to the culture of cycling. But the company has resisted the effort to organize, holding meetings with captive audiences and providing anti-union information to employees.
As one veteran BTS employee put it:
Jason Frantz, a longtime bike-sharing worker and Transit Workers Union organizer, said: “Put simply, this is sort of updating the proven boss’s manual. “I am the right parent who will take care of you, don’t worry about doing anything for yourself. They update it to say “I’m diverse, it’s a diverse business.”
BTS unionized workers broadly share the company’s values. But shared values do not always correspond to shared interests. Workers want a way forward in the company and a say in their working conditions and pay.
“It’s cool that everyone here is riding their bikes. I am proud to work for a woman-owned business. I know how rare it is. I want to change the way transport works in the city. We cannot survive as a car city, ”said one worker-organizer. “Many of us are very proud to be a part of this work. We just want to be a part of it in a dignified way.