PATERSON, NJ- Every day thousands of Paterson residents board New Jersey Transit buses headed to destinations around the city, Passaic County, or beyond. Rightly focused on getting to their intended destination, few think about who it is at the steering wheel making sure that the journey is a safe one.
On Monday, January 22, TAPinto Paterson was invited to attend a meeting of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU)- Local 822, the union whose nearly 650 active members are the drivers, mechanics, and cleaners who work on the buses on a daily basis.
For many of these members, which also includes approximately 300 retirees, Paterson is home, a fact not missed by the leadership of the Local, and also visible within the union’s mission inscribed in its constitution of bringing “enrichment” to their member’s and member’s families, on the job and off.
“Many of us are working in the community we live in,” stated Denise L. Briggs, Vice President, and a lifelong Paterson resident. Referring to these dual union members and residents as “stakeholders” Briggs said that “we live here, we work here, and we care.”
Like many Paterson residents, Briggs has her eyes on the upcoming election for Mayor, and while she offered that she has met many of the candidates, none of them have “swayed” or “captured” her. For a candidate to win her vote, they are going to have show that they are willing to “roll up their sleeves and get dirty.”
While electoral politics is an important fixture in the activities of the ATU, it’s not an activity that is taken lightly, or to simply get a candidate elected. At the meeting to preside over the swearing in of the Local’s newly elected officers, Chairman and State Business Agent Ray Greaves, who was often seen at Governor Phil Murphy’s side as he traversed the state seeking votes, ran through a litany of issues important to the union, and all working families.
Political action, it became evident, will prove critical in each of them as the individuals making the ultimate decisions, whether it’s on regulating jitney drivers, attempting to limit the voices of workers by limiting the strength of unions, or reaching a favorable contract, are elected by voters.
Echoing this theme, was Jerry Arroyo. The new President of the Local suggested that the jitney buses that try to compete with New Jersey Transit in Paterson and other New Jersey municipalities are a hazard, operating without having to meet any safety standards, and oftentimes, without insurance.
“Our job is to move people safely, jitney drivers don’t have to meet that standards,” Arroyo lamented while saying that there is pending legislation in Trenton to help deal with this issue. Through legislative advocacy, made possible by political action, the union can, the thought goes, help make sure that for individuals that rely on modes of transportation other than their own automobiles travel is as safe as possible.
With the large number of users in Paterson, the positive impact the union can have on the community through this endeavor becomes evident.
Though her daily travels may take her to other communities, and the problems that plague the city are very visible, there seems to be no other place that Briggs would rather call home. “I love Paterson,” she said without reservation.