Hundreds of drivers and other employees for two Access-A-Ride contracting companies will lose their jobs by the end of the year due to sudden contract cancellations by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).
Atlantic Paratrans of NYC Inc. had just signed a ten-year contract with the MTA to provide services for Access-A-Ride last spring, and the MTA unexpectedly discontinued that deal on October 1, said Carolyn Daly, who represents the company.
“We feel strongly that they did not negotiate in good faith with us,” said Daly, president of Brink Public Affairs LLC. She said the company is considering legal action against the MTA.
Fifty-two drivers for Atlantic Paratrans were laid off in the first week of October, and layoffs will continue weekly through the end of the year. More than 600 union employees will lose their jobs due to the change, including 451 drivers. The company will also dismiss cleaners, dispatchers, mechanics and safety and security personnel. Drivers say they have no severance package.
Drivers for Atlantic Paratrans and members of the Amalgamated Transit Union, pictured from left to right, include John Deloatch, Daniel Rivera, Eryberto Santiago, Stewart VanDunk and Robert Edwards.
“I was really disillusioned. There was no prior warning. There are people working there 20 years,” said Robert Edwards, a driver for 11 years who will lose his job December 1. “In my opinion, Transit is trying to bust the union,” Edwards added.
Progress Transit Inc. is expected to layoff more than 200 workers due to the cancellation of its contract.
Atlantic Paratrans, which is based in Maspeth, Queens has provided transportation to New Yorkers with disabilities for 20 years, providing rides for more than 200 people per day. Now the MTA says the company is too expensive.
Joseph Smith, senior vice president for MTA New York City Transit, said the decision was based solely on choosing the lowest bidding companies, those who can provide paratranst service for $10 less per hour. The MTA will be meeting with the union president to discuss the terminations, he added.
Steve Lopiano, the MTA’s acting vice president for paratranit, noted at the October 7 hearing that, “We’re changing our business approach.”
Atlantic Paratrans, which is represented in part by Local 1181, said the contract cancellation means New Yorkers with disabilities will receive transportation from less experienced companies.
“We see the MTA action as union busting, plain and simple,” said Thomas Jemmott, recording secretary of local 1181-1061, the Amalgamated Transit Union. More than half of the full-time drivers for Atlantic Paratrans have worked for the company for five years or more. Drivers who attended the hearing said they had worked at the company for 7-11 years.
“Experienced paratransit drivers are safer, more efficient, more professional and better equipped to handle emergencies and unexpected problems,” said Jemmott. “Many senior drivers know their customers and anticipate their needs and have formed personal bonds that are important to the customer experience.”
Local 1181 represents about 15,000 transit workers, including nearly 1,500 drivers, mechanics, cleaners and fuelers for three paratransit companies, and has been doing so for 21 years.
Jerome L. Dente, chief operating officer for Atlantic Paratrans, alerted the city Workforce Investment Board of the situation with a letter announcing that its facility will be closed following the dismissal of its workforce.
“The company was not able to give greater advance notice of this termination because this termination arises from unforeseeable business circumstances,” Dente wrote in the October 4 letter, adding, “We expect this layoff to be permanent.”
In a letter to Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, Dente called the MTA’s actions a “gross abuse of public authority.”
This article was published in the November 2010 issue of Able News.