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2 RTA Employees Fired After Asking About Hurricane Pay; Union Calls For CEO's Removal

Pastor Gregory Manning leads a prayer at a rally for Local Union President Valerie Jefferson, in red.
Ryan Nelsen
Pastor Gregory Manning leads a prayer at a rally for Local Union President Valerie Jefferson, in red.

A transit union is calling for the resignation of Alex Wiggins, the CEO of Regional Transit Authority, after he fired a bus operator for inquiring about an agreement for increased wages during Hurricane Ida.

Valerie Jefferson, the president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local #1560, was terminated from her role as a bus driver last week, just three days after Jefferson and Wiggins agreed to a boost in wages for bus drivers during the city's Ida relief and recovery efforts. Jefferson handed out the printed copies of the agreement at a rally Monday, which said drivers would be paid up to 10 hours of pay, depending on their position, in addition to what they’re already paid.

Jefferson said she went to Thomas Stringer, the RTA's Chief Operating Officer, when the extra wages were not included in the payroll, but Wiggins had also fired Stringer.

The official reason for her termination, according to Jefferson, was that she threatened Wiggins, but when International Vice President of ATU, Curtis Howard, spoke to Wiggins, he found it difficult to believe.

"Everybody who knows Val knows she doesn't curse," Howard said. "Every meeting we have, she prays before the meeting."

Howard accused Wiggins of running a hostile work environment based on retaliation, something Wiggins has been charged with before.

In 2019, shortly before the RTA board selected Wiggins, a report was released by the Los Angeles County Counsel's Office that Wiggins had multiple complaints against him during his role of Chief of Security at LA Metro. The report detailed that Wiggins engaged in abusive and demeaning behavior.

Wiggins was also placed on administrative leave from his 2013 role at a Chicago commuter train service until he resigned three months later.

Wiggins, a New Orleans native, earns a salary of $225,000 a year from RTA. Bus drivers for the company begin making $15 to $17 while training.

Jefferson, who is president of a nearly 500-member chapter, said her members answered the call when Mayor LaToya Cantrell requested 100 RTA operators for various uses when the power grid failed.

"We put our lives on hold so we could move those buses and go to the nursing homes. We went to the retirement homes, we went and cared for our people," said Jefferson at the rally.

Workers came together during the storm, Jefferson added, babysitting each other's kids and finding housing for each other so they could work twelve-hour shifts they agreed upon with the RTA.

The RTA gave accommodations for the operators who were called in, but not all were given hotel rooms. Of the 100 operators called into work, thirteen were left without rooms inside the Hyatt Centric in the French Quarter.

Jefferson said this is because some administrators claimed some of the rooms for themselves, leaving some workers to sleep in their cars or in the garage.

RTA said this morning that operators will receive their Hurricane Pay on September 17, but refused to comment on personnel matters.

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