“Let’s hope it doesn’t rain,” said Mike Lowery, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1395.
“I need a shower!” called out a member of the Occupy contingent, putting a positive spin on the storm clouds hovering overhead.
On Nov.3, the two groups converged to march down Palafox Street and into the Escambia County Commission chambers. The union welcomed the Occupy Pensacola contribution in its struggle toward a better deal for area transit employees.
“We’re hoping they’ll pay attention,” said Lowery, as he prepared to present commissioners with 5,000 signatures calling for the county to take over the transit system.
Currently, Escambia County Area Transit is managed by Veolia. Over the past couple of months, the French company and union employees have been hitting a brick wall at the negotiating table.
As they prepared to march, people took turns at a microphone rallying the crowd. County commission candidate Lumon May said, if elected, he would fight to keep money in the community, as opposed to sending it overseas with a multi-national management company.
Gary Rauen, international ATU vice president, told the crowd that the commission would probably not allow them to applaud during the meeting. Then he told them to do it anyway.
“You do whatever you want to do,” Rauen said. “You do what’s from the heart.”
Once inside the chambers, the group found the Commission was indeed opposed to applause.
“We just don’t do that,” Commissioner Wilson Robertson scolded them. “If you continue to do that we’ll have you removed. We do not allow applause.”
One after another, union supporters took to the public forum podium to voice their concerns. Employees weren’t happy with the work environment. Riders weren’t satisfied with the service.
“I’m asking where’s the justice,” Rauen wrapped up the group’s argument.
Prohibited from applauding, members of the gallery took to wiggling their fingers in the air as a show of support. It’s an Occupy thing. It looks strange, but the commissioners seemed to enjoy it.
Commissioners said that the county was financially strapped and not in a position to bolster bus service, and was currently evaluating its contract with Veolia.
Commissioner Gene Valentino also said that a regional mass transit system—one incorporating nearby counties—should be considered.
“Let’s talk about a mass transit system,” Valentino said. “It’s what the rest of the world is doing.”
The commissioner added that such an operation would require a gas tax.
“Mr. Valentino,” Rauen replied. “We will absolutely support a gas tax.”