Martin Luther King weekend got off to a rocky start when I read last Friday’s Technique about the recent bus driver layoffs. The official position seems to be that the laid-off drivers are not our employees, not our problem. As long as the new transportation contractor meets the technical specifications, Tech is satisfied.
That may be true in legal terms, but it’s hard to be satisfied with leaving it at that. This bus driver situation isn’t just business as usual, the result of some budgetary problem. It’s one of those teachable moments that ought to make us think about the role a university plays in society, about our institutional responsibility for our actions, and about the consequences they have for people in our community.
In my own role as history professor, I’ll note that Martin Luther King’s career as a civil rights leader had a lot to do with buses in the beginning — the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955-56, the freedom rides in the early 1960’s — but it ended with his murder in the midst of a labor dispute. He came to Memphis in 1968 to support sanitation workers, who were on strike for better working conditions and union recognition, because he understood that the dignity of work formed an important part of the larger meaning of freedom. We do Dr. King a disservice if we assume the civil rights struggle was just about fighting segregation and racism. It also encompassed a much broader mission of assuring social justice for all people, including those who labor for low wages.
We likewise do ourselves a disservice if we assume that the “bad old days” of social injustice are now behind us at Tech. Yes, we achieved racial integration without open violence in 1961, and these days we make a point of celebrating diversity. We do lots of service in the community around us, tutoring in schools and cleaning up neighborhoods. We even look beyond our borders, most recently reaching out to our distressed Haitian neighbors, as we certainly should.
But if we do good works without developing a deeper commitment to social justice for everyone, then our service remains isolated, our charity lacks context. Instead, we need to see the connections between the continuing crises facing people beyond our campus and the day-to-day struggles of others who work in our midst — bus drivers, custodians, food service workers, and all those who help the rest of us do our jobs. Earthquake relief and labor relations are very different issues, of course, but we ought not focus on one and ignore the other. Lending a hand to people in Haiti doesn’t have as much moral value if we take a hands-off, hands-tied approach to people right before our eyes.
One of our jobs as a university is to help everyone — students, faculty, and administrators alike — to think about these connections. When we do, our sense of social justice may leave us feeling many different ways – concerned, curious, perplexed, outraged, and sometimes overwhelmed. One way we should never feel, though, is satisfied.
I am writing in response to the protests over transit change. Specifically, I take issue with the consensus opinion [“Failure to Act” printed on Jan. 15] of the Technique editors that Tech missed an opportunity to show leadership in coming to the aid of the displaced First Transit bus drivers. The editorial further suggests that Tech has a “responsibility to the community” in helping former bus drivers find jobs.
Now, my understanding of the situation is that Tech simply decided that First Transit no longer could meet the transportation needs of the Institute in as cost-effective a manner as Groome Transportation. Its responsibility for the situation ended with the cancelling of the old contract and signing the new. It has no responsibility to the former drivers, as they were not Tech employees. Groome’s statement published in the article is most telling about the fate of these bus drivers. It indicates that less than half of the First Transit drivers applied for a position with Groome, and, of those asked to come in for an interview, only half bothered to show up. In my opinion, this is not a “missed opportunity for Tech to lead,” but rather a missed opportunity for the former drivers to take the necessary steps to help themselves out of unemployment.
The protests of the bus drivers’ union reek of the sense of entitlement that is so dangerous in times of economic duress. If we have learned anything during these many months of deep recession, I would hope that it would at least be that this hand-holding, babying mentality has done exceedingly more harm than good. To not engage in necessary cost-cutting procedures would be the mark of great irresponsibility on the part of the Institute. If Tech truly wishes to lead the Atlanta community, it must do so by maintaining funding to the innovative science and technology programs which have established it as one of the top research universities in the country.
The bus drivers’ situation, lamentable as it may be, is nothing new to an American populace which has had to cope with months of severe unemployment. The bottom line is this: We are in a deep recession. Costs get cut. Jobs get lost. People get fired. It happens, and there’s little use in wasting time whining. It’s just business, as the saying goes, it’s an important lesson to learn.
Martin Gantt’s column this week [“Students and Workers” printed on Jan. 15] complains a lot, but does little to prove why his point of view is right. But I’ll try to do better coming at it from another angle.
First, the contract was competitively bid. If any bidder or other party affected has reason to believe their was bias they can file a protest and possibly have the contract overturned. The unionized workers were employees of the previous contractor. They chose to unionize, they raised the costs to that contractor with their demands (higher wages in a down economy) and apparently that contractor could no longer make a competitive bid. I work in government procurement – this happens.
Second, the state of Georgia is a right to work state, not a forced unionization state. You can pretty much be fired for anything.
Worse stinger service of late? Was there EVER good stinger service? The stingers and trolleys have been so notoriously unreliable that many students, myself included, never used them.
How, without this “quality public transportation” (in the city that produced MARTA?!), did I get around for all my years of enrollment at Tech? Oh, I used my feet. You know, those two things attached at the bottom of your legs? Or hell, a bike if your feet are for some reason too slow. And if you’re disabled, there are other accommodations that can be made.
If you don’t like the stinger services, file a complaint with parking and transportation and walk. It probably won’t improve stinger service, but you’ll get there at least as fast. Tech is not that big of a campus! My first semester, I had to go from Skiles to Institute Of Paper Science and Technology and then to Howey in consecutive hours. I got there every time on time, twice a week, for 16 weeks.
But this inane “Worker’s Rights Are Human Rights?” Well, define human rights? Define worker’s rights? What are they? Who designates these rights? Don’t I get a say if they did ? Did I at least get democratically elected representation in choosing said human and worker’s rights?
It is a down economy; Tech had to save money where it could – it has a budget that is being cut to bare bones essentials, so they chose a contractor who could deliver at a lower cost and they also cut services to save money and may increase services when the money situation is better.
They were fired. Some were re-hired. It happens in a free society, so you work hard and find another job else you retrain and find another job. If crying about it solves your problem, then I weep for our society.
In his op-ed [“Students and worker” printed on Jan. 15], Martin Gantt argues that unionizing the South is an unfinished but worthy goal. In response, I would like to point out that GM and Chrysler employees were unionized with the UAW. Toyota and Honda employees are not unionized. GM and Chrysler both filed for bankruptcy protection last year. Toyota and Honda are stronger than ever. Is there merely correlation between unionization and failure or is it actually causation? I’ll let the reader decide.
Your story on Rihanna’s Rated R [“Dark Rhianna” printed on Jan. 15] is solely backed up by opinions and not facts. Rated R has sold over one million copies certified platinum. So far the two singles “Russian Roulette” and “Hard” have become a Billboard Top Ten Hits. Her whole album received mostly/all positive reviews metallic rates it 76/100. Perhaps you are mistaken by Chris browns album Graffiti.