Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Wednesday March 9th, 2016, 2:53pm

Fired Chicago Bus Driver Speaks Out; CTA Approves Contract For Hundreds Of New Railcars

A former Chicago transit worker who claims he was "unjustly" terminated last month saw support Wednesday morning from some Chicago Teachers Union members and community groups, who want the fired bus driver rehired.

The group, including representatives from the Black Youth Project 100, spoke out before the Chicago Transit Board meeting.

Erek Slater, who previously worked as a Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) bus driver and claims to be a "union steward" and Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 241 executive board member, said he was "unjustly" fired last month.

According to the group, Slater was fired after initiating, as a union steward, "an inquiry into a possible violation of the contract" by the CTA "on the request of his coworker."

Slater's attorney, Nicholas Kreitman of Gainsberg Law P.C., spoke to the media. He alleges his client's firing was in retaliation for him being "an outspoken advocate for the Chicago Teachers Union and speaking up in favor of police accountability across the city of Chicago."

Specifically, Kreitman said Slater was "organizing bus drivers to support teachers for better schools" and "for better public transit." Slater was also "an outspoken advocate for accountability and for working families."

Nicholas KreitmanKreitman said the group wants an "independent hearing" held into Slater's termination and is "demanding his immediate reinstatement." 

"Erek's rights were violated when he was terminated for standing up for an employee as a union representative, and also his rights were violated under the labor law when he was told not to discuss the Chicago Teachers Union on CTA property," Kreitman claimed.

Kreitman said unfair labor practice charges have been filed with the state's labor board regarding Slater's case.

The CTA issued a statement to Progress Illinois.

"Because this group has not directly approached CTA with its concerns, we're not certain what the issues are," said CTA spokesman Stephen Mayberry. "However, the collective bargaining agreements we have with all our unions have clear, defined guidelines related to discipline. At every step of the disciplinary process, union employees have a chance to have input into the disciplinary process. Further, if discipline is given, the CBA allows employees to appeal their discipline."

Messages seeking comment were left with ATU Local 241.

Slater and his supporters expect to attend a community forum Wednesday evening, organized by the Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign and Chicago Jobs With Justice, about city and state budget-related issues. CTU President Karen Lewis is among those slated to attend the forum, scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Chicago Temple Building, 77 W. Washington St.

"Our state and city have manufactured budget crises. Politicians claim the state and city governments are broke but we know they're broke on purpose," reads an announcement for the event. "If they tax the rich, there is no crisis. We must demand they invest in our futures."

Check back with Progress Illinois for our coverage of the Wednesday night forum.

Railcar Contract Gets Approved

New railcarsThe Chicago Transit Board, meanwhile, approved a $1.3 billion contract on Wednesday for the biggest purchase of railcars in CTA's history. CSR Sifang America JV was picked to manufacture 846 new railcars. The new 7000-series railcars -- which will have a combination of forward-facing and aisle-facing seats -- will be assembled in Chicago. A South Side manufacturing facility for the railcars is expected to be built by the company at 135th Street and Torrence Avenue, generating a projected 169 jobs.

The new facility will become the first of its kind in 35 years, since the closure of the Pullman Car Works in 1981.

"With this agreement, CTA riders will get state-of-the-art rail cars and Chicago returns to our roots as the place where the next generation of rail cars are built, providing good jobs for our residents," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. "That is a classic win-win for Chicago."

At a press conference, Emanuel added that the project will provide commuters with "a quiet, safe and secure experience on a modern train built here in the city of Chicago."

CTA President Dorval R. Carter, Jr. said the new railcars will result in the city having "one of the youngest fleets in the entire country." 

The new 7000-series railcars, which will be financed by a combination of federal funds and a previous CTA bond issue, will allow the CTA to retire its oldest cars, including some that are over 30 years old. 

As part of the 7000-series railcar project, CTA plans to buy an initial base order of 400 new railcars, "with options to purchase the remainder in coming years," the agency said in a news release.

Prototypes of the 7000-series are anticipated by 2019, according to CTA, and the agency expects to begin receiving cars to put into service by 2020.

Bottom Image: Chicago Transit Authority

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