CLOVERDALE â€” 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 unionâ€™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 â€œyesâ€ 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 isnâ€™t going toward a for-profit American contractor, which currently has a $39-million arrangement with TransLink.
â€œWhereâ€™s that money going? Itâ€™s not being re-spent here,â€ Chitrenky said.
Beth McKellar, co-ordinator of the HandyDART Riders Alliance, said something needs to be done to make TransLink accountable for â€œevery penny it spendsâ€ and to ensure it goes to the appropriate places. She said the money doesnâ€™t always have to go to the â€œsexyâ€ projects like the Evergreen Line.
â€œBecause weâ€™re not getting any younger, the population is aging and itâ€™s baby boomers like myself that â€“ OK we still got it together but we donâ€™t move as well,â€ 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 arenâ€™t guaranteed their trip will be approved.
â€œEven 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,â€ he said.
According to the Ridersâ€™ 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.