HandyDART staff rally in Cloverdale

CLOVERDALE — HandyDART union members rallied in the rain on Thursday to show their support for a member whom they claim was wrongfully fired.

Bob Chitrenky, president of Local 1724 the amalgamated transit union, said the group was wearing pink anti-bullying T-shirts because dispatcher Kathy Dietrich from the union’s executive board was fired for standing up to workplace harassment.

The alleged incident happened two weeks before Christmas after complaining to management about a bullying incident.

Chitrenky said the employer, MV Transportation, a U.S. company based in Dallas, cares more about profits than about the people it employs and serves.

Union members also rallied to urge people in Metro Vancouver to vote “yes” in the upcoming transit plebiscite, which would increase payments to the service for disabled riders.

The union also wants HandyDART brought into TransLink so that the money isn’t going toward a for-profit American contractor, which currently has a $39-million arrangement with TransLink.

“Where’s that money going? It’s not being re-spent here,” Chitrenky said.

Beth McKellar, co-ordinator of the HandyDART Riders Alliance, said something needs to be done to make TransLink  accountable for “every penny it spends” and to ensure it goes to the appropriate places. She said the money doesn’t always have to go to the “sexy” projects like the Evergreen Line.

“Because we’re not getting any younger, the population is aging and it’s baby boomers like myself that – OK we still got it together but we don’t move as well,” she said, adding HandyDART riders desperately depend on the service to maintain their independence and dignity.

Gary Brown, who makes use of a wheelchair, came from Burnaby to show his support for Dietrich and the HandyDART employees.

He noted the service has slowly deteriorated since he began using it in 2010 with an increasing number of rides being denied. Users of the service often have to book a ride seven days in advance and aren’t guaranteed their trip will be approved.

“Even with calling seven days in advance they try and put you on a wait list sometimes and you know they should be able to schedule that far,” he said.

According to the Riders’ Alliance, freedom of information requests show people with disabilities and seniors were denied HandyDART service over 42,000 times in 2013, an eight-fold increase over four years. There were 5,075 HandyDART denials in 2009 and 42,418 in 2013.

Transit referendum ballots will be mailed out to registered voters in Metro Vancouver starting March 16 and must be returned by May 29.

Twitter @adrianmacnair

amacnair@thenownewspaper.com

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