By Joel Hall
Labor unions representing bus drivers, construction workers, airport employees, truckers, and other service workers gave a major endorsement to District 1 Commissioner Candidate Shegale Crute on Monday.
The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), representing former C-TRAN bus drivers, and the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council, representing 10,000 service workers in Clayton County and 42 labor unions across the state, threw their support behind Crute during a press conference at Painters and Allied Trades Union Hall in Forest Park.
Both groups identified Crute as the candidate they believe will bring public-transit options back to the county, which they said is crucial in getting service employees to, and from, their jobs.
The ATU, which represents workers for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) and other metro-area bus systems, is among the most vocal critics of the October 2009 decision of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) to end C-TRAN, the county's bus service. The system was dismantled on March 31 of this year, due to budgetary concerns, causing 64 C-TRAN employees to lose their jobs.
Benita West, president of the metro Atlanta chapter of ATU, said the organization would support Crute, who is running against Rosa Barbee, Joyce Baul, former Clayton County Commissioner Richard Reagan, and Incumbent District 1 Commissioner Sonna Singleton. All, including Crute, are Democrats. There are no Republicans in the race.
"We're proud to support and endorse Shegale Crute for commissioner for District 1," West said. "The citizens of Clayton County are yearning for leadership with a purpose ... they are looking for leaders who can move Clayton, literally. How can a county, with the busiest airport, move people from one end of the globe to another [and], purposely lock their citizens in the county, and they have to thumb a ride to work?"
Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council President Charlie Flemming said the organization represents a broad spectrum of service workers in Clayton County, including parcel service workers, police officers and firefighters, airport mechanics, Kroger employees, and painters. He said Crute would provide a "new vision" for the county.
"We represent roughly 89,000 workers, around 10,000 of those workers reside in Clayton County," Flemming said. "It is critically important to working families and our members to put people back to work. Clayton County can do better. We're excited about our endorsement of Shegale. She's going to provide the kind of leadership Clayton County has been looking for, for years.
"To me, it's unbelievable that a county would do this to their citizens," he added. "There are certain core things a government should provide, and public transit is one of those core issues."
Crute, who accepted the endorsement, said public transportation is "a service," and "not a business," and that she would fight for it, if elected to the board. "Our partners in metro Atlanta and around the state sat with our commissioners [to find ways to fund C-TRAN]," Crute said. "They didn't want to hear it. They had ample opportunity to bring in revenue to subsidize transit. You have to create an environment where a business can come and thrive ... you have to provide them with public transit for their employees. I don't think they did everything they could to make that happen."
At 5:30 p.m., today, members of the ATU and Friends of Clayton Transit, a transit support group, will lead what they are calling a "Transit Resurrection Rally," and march from the Jonesboro Xpress Bus Station, near the corner of Smith Street and Tara Boulevard, to the Clayton County Administration Building at 112 Smith Street.
State Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam (D-Riverdale), a member of Friends of Clayton Transit, was at the press conference on Monday. She said marchers will demand that the BOC opt for a binding referendum to determine if Clayton County should tax itself an additional penny to become a paying member of the MARTA system.
A straw poll to determine whether Clayton residents want to pay into MARTA is currently scheduled to appear on the Nov. 2 general election. According to Abdul-Salaam, however, recently passed legislation allowing Clayton to vote on paying into MARTA can only be voted on during a general election, and that delaying a binding referendum may push the vote to November of 2012.
"There is a Sept. 2  deadline to do the binding referendum," she said. "We don't want to wait for three years for the governor's bill to kick in. That's a long time to be without transportation. All we can do is put in a mechanism. It is in the hands of the commission."