Chanting “our campus… our buses,” more than 50 students, University employees and union members supporting University bus drivers gathered yesterday afternoon on the Diag to a beating drum and tambourine.
The group said they were angered at the lack of attention the University is giving to the drivers” positions in the current negotiations with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. Drivers fear the loss of their jobs and foresee a failing bus system through a partnership with AATA.
“You can”t expect to have an A-team, and bring in a C-team to get an A-plus,” student bus driver Marisa Arnold said.
Throughout the week, drivers have been collecting petitions and handing out fliers to promote awareness on campus before the University Board of Regents meeting tomorrow. Michael Edwards, the president of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees the union the drivers belong to is expected to speak, as well as a student committee.
Among many consequences, drivers predict an intensified partnership with AATA will mean longer wait times and changes for students.
“I would hate for the University to be sold out to an inefficient bus system,” said Arnold, an LSA freshman.
Facilities and Operations spokeswoman Diane Brown said if the University signs a contract with AATA, routes filled by AATA service would be similar to Route 36, which runs along State Street to Wolverine Tower and also to downtown on a frequent cycle.
“An hour service or even a half-hour service isn”t going to make it,” Brown said.
“If a particular route has 10-minute service right now, it won”t be feasible for it to go to 15-minute service. They will have to go 10 or less. Administration is very firm on that it won”t work,” she said.
Some AATA employees attended the University bus driver”s rally.
“An AATA employee who drives with us saw AATA managers in the crowd about 45 minutes into the rally,” he said. “They had seen our fliers and wanted to see what we had to say.”
RC senior and bus driver Scott Burkhardt said the AATA officials” unfamiliarity with the campus is an indication of what is to come.
“They went to the corner of State and North University, thinking that was the Diag,” Burkhardt said.
Edwards said driving buses is one of the highest paying jobs for students on campus and enables many students to support themselves.
Student jobs lost to a partnership with AATA will also affect the minority population at the University, some drivers claim.
RC sophomore Monique Luse said there are racist undertones in the negotiations with AATA.
“A majority of bus drivers are minority students. And when you think about who drives and who rides the buses, the University does not care about minority students,” Luse said.
Last week the students formed a Michigan Student Assembly organization, which would get them funding, Burkhardt said. Students also recently launched a website, www.noaata.org, to promote their efforts.
“It”s also a way to show students we”re serious and organized,” Burkhardt said.
Brown said there are still discussions going on internally about looking at the optimal solution regarding possible transfer of service hours in the first year.
“There won”t be any student drivers who lose their jobs,” Brown said.
Brown said although formal negotiations haven”t begun yet, there have been planning meetings.
“There is a pretty strong first-year commitment and we have a strong interest in exploring an unlimited access program,” she said.
Also present to show their support at the rally were Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality, the Black Student Union, Student Democrats, Student Greens and Members of the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action By Any Means Necessary.