Shots in Arms, Transit Equity, and Labor Justice in Lansing, MI
Written by Jerome L. Reide, Former NAACP Regional Field Director
A March announcement that the Capital Area Transit Authority (CATA), which serves the greater Lansing and East Lansing communities, would transport people in need to get Covid-19 vaccines sounded like great news. Disabled, unemployed, communities of color, low-income, and homebound people will focus on this effort.
"Michigan's public transit systems are uniquely positioned to support the state's COVID- 19 vaccination efforts by transporting arms to shots and shots to arms," said Bradley T. Funkhouser, chief executive officer of the Capital Area Transportation Authority, which serves much of the Greater Lansing area. "It is our obligation as public transportation systems to do what we can to make the COVID vaccine accessible to all residents, and we know our systems are positioned to help achieve an equitable distribution of vaccines to people and communities that face transportation obstacles."
A surge in Covid-19 infections, disparities in access to Lansing mass transit, and a labor dispute with bus drivers are three challenges that may harm Lansing's African American community.
There were 22,204 reported Covid-19 cases in Ingham County that includes Lansing and East Lansing. Governor Gretchen Whitmer's use of executive powers to put strict restrictions on school restaurants and large gatherings slowed down the spread of the virus despite political opposition to the shutdown measures. Governor Whitmer lifted restrictions in March, and by April 13, Michigan saw 4,000 hospitalizations in one day.
Bridge Michigan (bridgemi.com) reports that white Michigan residents get the Covid-19 vaccine twice the rate of African Americans. In Ingham- 106, 462 people have at least one dose (36.77%), and 62,408 people (21.55%) are fully vaccinated. The Lansing Metropolitan Statistical Area is 76% white, nine percent African American, seven percent Hispanic, and five percent Asian. Bridge also reports that more than 40% of the vaccines administered did not collect racial information.
Lansing was included in a recent report, "Access to Opportunity through Equitable Transportation"
The report says this small sprawling population and highly segregated has a high unemployment rate. The Capital Area Transit Authority carries more than 11 million passengers a year. Low-wage workers on the outskirts of Lansing lack ready access to jobs in the central city and centrally located healthcare facilities.
CATA bus drivers and mechanics recently protested after 17 months of negotiations disagreed on overtime, retiree benefits, and vacation.
"CATA's maintenance and operations employees are the life-blood of the transit system, and they have risked their lives to ensure that public transit continues to operate in the Greater Lansing area," says Union President/Business Agent Steven Soliz. "The Union is not willing to throw its contractual protections under the bus, especially at a time when CATA has received an unprecedented ten million dollars from the federal government. The Union looks forward to getting back to the bargaining table and reaching an agreement that respects its employees and the sacrifices they have already made."
CATA and ATU Local 1039 Fact Finding Report and Response
Lansing's African American community sits at the intersection of inequitable mass transit, disparities in Covid-19 vaccine distribution, and a labor dispute. Hopefully, these issues can be sorted out so that there is adequate Lansing public transportation available to get Covid-19 vaccinations in the arms of the most vulnerable community.
Founded in 1909 in response to the ongoing violence against Black people around the country, the NAACP is the largest and most pre-eminent civil rights organization in the nation. We have over 2,200 units and branches across the nation, along with well over 2M activists. Our mission is to secure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights in order to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure the health and well-being of all persons. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP.
NOTE: The Legal Defense Fund, also referred to as the NAACP-LDF, was founded in 1940 as a part of the NAACP, but separated in 1957 to become a completely separate entity. It is recognized as the nation's first civil and human rights law organization, and shares our commitment to equal rights.