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I-Team: Union Workers Campaign On County Time

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Jim-DeFede-600x450 Jim DeFede
Jim DeFede joined CBS4 News in January 2006, providing reg...
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MIAMI (CBS4) – At least a dozen Miami Dade Transit employees – on county time — are actively campaigning on behalf of Miami Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez and Commissioner Natacha Seijas, the CBS4 I-Team Investigator Jim DeFede has learned.

CBS4 News found several of the employees, members of Transport Workers Union Local 291, at an early voting site in North Dade Tuesday morning.

“I’m going to be out here everyday,” said Shadel Hamilton, a bus driver for 21 years. “We are out here trying to inform people, trying to educate people.”

Hamilton is a member of the union’s Civil Rights and Education Committee, which was formed on January 26. The members of the committee continue to be paid their normal county salary – bus drivers earn between $20 and $30 an hour – but instead of driving buses, their assignment is to “educate” transit workers about an array of issues, including the recall.

“If that question comes up they’ll talk about the recall,” said union president Talib Nashid.

Added Hamilton: “Yeah I’m getting paid. I’m getting paid but it is something right now I am volunteering to do.”

Hamilton maintains that the time he works the early voting site is separate from his education committee time – time he goes into the transit garages at night and talks to workers about the recall.

“I could have been on the other job doing the committee work but I am out here supporting the union,” he said.

But at other times of the interview, Johnson made it clear he considered his time at the early voting site to be integral to the committee’s work.

“This is part of the committee,” he said, as he handed out flyers to early voters. “And from here I’ll go to the garages and we go to the drivers.”

What does he discuss with the drivers?

“Politics, what the union is doing, what we are working on,” he said. “Right now it’s about the recall, basically about the recall but it is not limited to that, we inform them to let them know why the union is supporting the mayor.”

When CBS4 I-Team investigator Jim DeFede asked Talib Nashid, the union president, why the recall was so important to the union, he said: “It’s a cause. We think the mayor needs to be in there, because he is supporting our cause. He’s supporting our people.”

Nashid said he did not understand why some people might be offended that county employees – on county time – were campaigning on behalf of the mayor and a county commissioner.

“So you are saying that because you are paying me, I shouldn’t be concerned about whether or not the boss who is over me – what he’s doing to my salary,” he said. “You’re saying I shouldn’t exercise my freedom of speech? Is that what you are saying?”

Told that perhaps some people might believe that if they were being paid to drive buses then they should probably be spending their working hours driving buses, Nashid replied: “So you are saying when you are working if somebody asks you a question concerning your job – how you are going to get paid, whether you are going to get laid off, I shouldn’t talk about that?”

Nashid said Miami Dade Transit Director Harpal Kapoor approved the creation of the education committee as well as the decision to allow a dozen union workers to continue to get paid while they served on the committee.

Karla Damian, a Miami Dade Transit spokeswoman, said the committee was formed when transit workers complained they were not getting accurate information about the state of affairs with the 3,000-member department.

She described it as a “demonstration project” to try and help the employees. She said the union sent the director a list of twelve names and he agreed to “release” them to work for the union. “Once they are released to the union,” she said, “what they do is at the discretion of the union.”

“A lot of people say you should be driving a bus, you should be driving a bus, you should be driving a bus,” said Hamilton, the bus driver. “But I’m part of the union now so that’s my job.”

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