Miami-Dade County

Union compares Miami-Dade’s transit system to “Apartheid” over outsourcing plan

A Miami-Dade bus gets ready for a late-night cleaning at a county garage. File photo from Sept. 23, 2015.
A Miami-Dade bus gets ready for a late-night cleaning at a county garage. File photo from Sept. 23, 2015. Patrick Farrell

Fighting an outsourcing proposal for bus routes, Miami-Dade’s transportation union on Tuesday accused the county of running an “Apartheid transit system” that discriminates against “people of color” — accusations the mayor’s office labeled “despicable.”

The press release from Transport Workers Union Local 291 slams Miami-Dade for proposed cuts in bus service while elected leaders tout expanding rail options countywide.

“Angry and frustrated people of color and low income have the neglected Metrobus system,” read the statement, “while tourists and residents of more affluent communities have the newer [rail] systems as well as assurances that the County plans to improve and expand these systems going forward.

Miami-Dade County has what is tantamount to an ‘Apartheid’ transit system, which is a system that discriminates on grounds of race.

Statement from the Transport Workers Union’s Miami-Dade chapter

“Miami-Dade County has what is tantamount to an ‘Apartheid’ transit system, which is a system that discriminates on grounds of race,” the release continued, invoking South Africa’s dismantled laws that institutionalized racial segregation.

Michael Hernández, communications director for Mayor Carlos Gimenez, issued a brief statement noting the transit system already eats up about half of the county’s special sales tax for transportation — which generates about $250 million a year. He noted that subsidy for operations and maintenance largely goes to the pay of union members.

“TWU members are the employees who provide the operations and maintenance work for Miami-Dade Transit,” Hernández said. “This press release is misleading and frankly, despicable.”

The exchange comes as the County Commission prepares to vote on a cost-cutting plan to turn over some bus routes to a private operator. Meanwhile, elected leaders are considering the 2016 SMART Plan, which promotes the potential for new rail lines countywide. One of the proposed routes runs up 27th Avenue, through a number of neighborhoods with large black populations that were promised rail when Miami-Dade voters passed the half-percent transportation tax in 2002.

The Gimenez administration points to generous union benefits as a major reason for the high cost of bus service, including guaranteed overtime for some workers and leave policies that have the average bus operator absent about 20 percent of the time. Union leaders accuse the administration of manipulating the data to make their members look bad as a way to disguise high costs brought on by delayed maintenance and aging equipment.

Combined with eliminating several routes and cutting bus stops in others, Miami-Dade estimates it can save about $24 million by hiring Transportation America to take over 14 existing routes. The Miami-based company already operates trolley service in cities across Miami-Dade.

In an interview, TWU president Clarence Washington said the release was aimed at the pending vote on outsourcing the bus routes, which he claims will eventually lead to reduced hours. “If it stays in-house,” he said, “you’re going to get the service.” Transit administrators and Transportation America say the routes’ existing hours will remain the same under a private operator.

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