The local Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents CARTA employees, has filed a lawsuit against the transportation authority, citing complaints that Constitutional rights are being violated.
“It’s a First Amendment [issue],” ATU President Kathryn Smith said Wednesday. “We have a right to freedom of speech and they have forbidden that.”
The lawsuit, which was filed in United States District Court this week, alleges that ATU members haven’t been allowed to speak at CARTA board meetings “because of who they are, whom they associate with, and what they intend to say.”
Smith said that members have been asking to speak the meetings since November but have been denied. In December, CARTA workers had a rally to protest working conditions. At that time, the union said a driver shortage was forcing drivers to work overtime beyond their limits, among other issues.
The new lawsuit also challenges a resolution that’s been in place since 2015 and regulates how speakers can address the board at its meetings.
CARTA Chairman Stephen Jett said Wednesday that he was “puzzled” to see a lawsuit had been filed because he emailed the union president last week to tell her she was free to speak at the meeting. She’s on the agenda to speak at Thursday’s 10 a.m. meeting.
“We’ve always said anyone is free to speak, but we would like to know in advance what they are speaking about,” he said.
Smith said she shouldn’t have to tell him what she wants to talk about.
The resolution was put in place in an effort to put “reasonable restrictions” on speakers to prevent the meeting from being dominated by one person or topic, Jett said.
There’s a collective bargaining agreement in place between CARTA and the union and that agreement includes provisions for how to deal with disputes, Jett said.
In some cases, it wouldn’t be appropriate to take up issues connected to the collective bargaining agreement in the meeting, he said.
“One of the reasons we want to know the topic is so we’re not expected to deal with issues under the union agreement [during the meeting],” Jett said.
The board is going to review the resolution and may make changes if needed, Jett also said.
See the lawsuit and resolution in the below document.