Detroit bus services to resume Monday after walkout

Detroit bus drivers plan to resume service Monday after they walked off the job Friday, according to the city and the drivers’ union.

The Detroit Department of Transportation and the union came to an agreement to have drivers back on the road by 3 a.m. Monday after negotiations on Sunday, said Glenn Tolbert, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 26.

A worker moves a bucket as buses are cleaned at the Detroit Department of Transportation's Gilbert Terminal, in Detroit, March 17, 2020.

A memorandum of understanding by the city appears not to include when the drivers will return but spells out how the department will protect drivers, a source of contention among DDOT drivers. City spokesman John Roach said he wasn’t able to comment on the agreement and sought to provide someone from the city who was involved in negotiations. 

Meanwhile, DDOT will partner with the Detroit Police Department to provide more coach boarding. 

Drivers walked off after an incident on a bus last month where a passenger boarded without a mask. Surveillance video on the bus appears to show the passenger getting close to the driver and the driver pushing him to the floor and allegedly punching the passenger, Duggan said at a news conference Saturday. (Warning: The video below includes graphic language and imagery.)

The driver was suspended for 29 days and is appealing the suspension, said Duggan. 

“We think the most important thing is the PSA, public service announcements, that will be on the radio and televisions outlining that the city will not tolerate assaults against drivers,” said Tolbert. 

Detroit police and the Detroit Transit Police will board buses 500 times a week to provide protection and will sometimes be undercover, Tolbert said. 

DDOT also will expedite the arbitration process of the bus driver who was was suspended after physically fighting with a passenger who didn’t wear a mask. 

The memorandum says bus operators “generally do not feel safe at work due to violent and threatening circumstances presented by customers and members of the public” and due to “the coronavirus pandemic and people they encounter not observing the necessary precautions.”

It also states that “DDOT affirms that it will engage all efforts to protect coach operators from violence and quickly investigate incidents as thoroughly and quickly as possible.”

Tolbert said Saturday that Duggan’s comments saying that the drivers’ walkout was “illegal” and a “violation of their existing contract” were insensitive to the drivers who don’t feel safe. 

Tolbert said the video, to him, showed that the passenger was the one being aggressive.

“We’ve had drivers stabbed and punched,” Tolbert said. “I think that’s the narrative the city would have preferred than a driver protecting himself. I don’t think that driver acted improperly. No one is going to make me believe that he could have done anything differently.”

Mikel Oglesby, Detroit’s executive director of transit who oversees DDOT, said he is looking at videos of the incident and that “due process” is being carried out. 

“I can assure you the outcome is going to be the right one,” he said. “This should not be connected to transportation in the city of Detroit. DDOT has an obligation to provide transportation to the riders. I spoke to the union, they know that, and we’re still at this point.” 

Tolbert said he encouraged his union workers to return to work but said they don’t feel respected by the city when the drivers are “constantly under attack.”

“It’s not safe for them to go back,” he said. “When you look at all these assaults, they are absolutely right.”