This past week, braving blazing 100 plus degree temperatures and universal condemnation from the local, corporate owned media, Columbus bus drivers and maintenance workers, members of United Transportation Union, local 208, carried out a successful two day strike against COTA (Central Ohio Transportation Authority).

The largely African-American UTU workforce had been working since November without a contract, and no progress had been made in negotiations until a Federal Mediator was brought in a month ago. However, members of UTU, concerned with safety and economic issues had set a deadline of July 1 to settle or to walk. The union did not want to strike but felt they had to take a stand for economic justice and public safety or, as public workers, they’d continue to be made scapegoats for an economic crisis caused by corporate greed. “Our members live in this community and whatever they earn, they spend in this community,” said TWU, local 208 President Andrew Jordan. “We are active contributing members of the Columbus community and we’re working to make this area better, stronger and safer.”

The settlement, after talks quickly got underway and were successful, brings workers a 7% raise over the next three years and, while continuing pension coverage, has workers contributing an additional 1% to that program.

Healthcare coverage is maintained and strengthened in some areas, including the introduction of a Wellness Program which rewards workers for making healthy lifestyle choices (working out, quitting smoking, etc.). Protections were put in place for bus drivers, who’ve faced assaults, violence, in some cases. Some shorter shifts are being introduced, in order to help, with other provisions, address the problem of dangerous fumes that maintenance workers must deal with. The settlement is expected to bring over $2 million into the depressed Columbus economy, has the Transit workers spend their raises at local businesses.

“Everyone came together, workers and the public, and we are so happy to be back on the job,” said local driver Lisa Combs. “I want to retire and spend time with my family, and now I can. We’ve given the better part of our lives to serving the public and we shouldn’t have to retire just to get another job, like so many now have to. This is good for all of us!”

Many of those present at the Transport Worker’s Union hall on South High were appreciative of the active role played by Columbus Mayor Coleman in getting the sides to the table and working to assure that a quick settlement was achieved. Much like the fight against SB 5 this past year, which scapegoated public workers and would’ve ended their bargaining rights if it hadn’t been repealed, the Dispatch and local media attacked the workers for daring to strike. The public, however, was generally supportive of the workers, according to Jordan. “As soon as we set up picket lines, we started hearing car horns, seeing folks waving, giving us thumbs-up signs,” Jordan stated. “We had people just showing up with water for the picketers, snacks, and encouragement. I was really happy to see a group from the AFL-CIO and especially a nice crowd from the UAW. It wasn’t unanimous, there were a few negatives, but those being supportive were the majority, by far!”

Mass transit has been under attack from corporate forces and GOP politicians nationally. Jordan said that the UTU local here sees mass transit as extremely important to the local community, that it helps people in communities trying to find work and is better environmentally for communities. UTU here had set delegations this past year to D.C. to lobby for a strong transportation bill. “I’ve been here 14 years and this really brought everyone, workers and public, together,” said Trina Tucker. “My son, my family, is important and this settlement means that I can take care of them with dignity!”