June 22, 2012: Thousands of New York City school bus drivers and aides safely transport kids every day. But many Teamsters work under substandard contracts with lower wages and benefits than other workers in their same industry, and even in their same union.
Local 854 drivers and school aides are working to change that. Workers at Empire State/Allied Bus Corporation started their campaign for a fair contract by circulating a membership survey to get members talking about the contract and find out the most important issues.
"The survey helped us reach out and get members talking," said TDU member and driver Pierre Jerome. "We collected phone numbers and emails and found members who want to get more involved in helping win a better contract."
For the first time Local 854 officials held a union meeting in Brooklyn—and members turned out to talk about the contract.
"Members spoke out about what we want in the contract and we elected a bargaining committee," said Margarette Peck-Adjohda, a bus aide and member of the bargaining committee.
The bargaining committee has adopted the bargaining goals members defined through the survey—raising pay and bringing benefits up to the level of the top school bus contract in the local.
Top pay in the Empire/Allied contract is $822.68 a week, while top pay for drivers at Consolidated Bus Transit, who are also represented by Local 854, is $1,099.70.
At present, the committee has not yet met with management.
Members know their campaign is far from over. "We don't want rumors to circulate and workers to be pitted against one another," said driver Vadim Tsipenyuk.
"Our goal is to build unity and keep members informed at every stage. We're not looking for problems. We're just looking to have the same contract that other school bus workers in our local do. That's not too much to ask."
We Only Want What's Fair
"Our goal is to build unity and keep members informed at every stage.
"We're not looking for problems. We're just looking to have the same contract that other school bus workers in our local do. That's not too much to ask."
Vadim Tsipenyuk, Bus Driver, Local 854, New York City
May 22, 2012: Vermont bus drivers welcome their new boss with a show of rank and file unity.
For years, Teamster bus drivers in Vermont were at odds with their General Manager, including a bitter battle over their last contract which ended in a rank-and-file victory.
So members were happy to get the news that a new General Manager was on the way.
Then, stewards received letters at their homes from management telling them not to interfere with any company investigations.
"That was really the last straw," said Local 597 member Robert Slingerland. "Members were angry and wanted to do something to show that things had to change."
When the new General Manager came on the job, the members decided to show some solidarity.
"We wanted to show the new management that we're united and we're not going back to the way things were before," explains TDU member Scott Ranney.
Members circulated a petition in support of their stewards—56 out of 60 drivers signed the
petition. Slingerland then had 56 buttons reading "SOLIDARITY" made, and distributed them to the members who signed the petition.
When their new General Manager came on the job, members wore the buttons on the job for a whole week.
The show of unity paid off.
"We’re getting more respect and there’s fewer write-ups now," says Ranney.
"Drivers really liked the buttons and are still wearing them," says Slingerland. "Some wear two."
The honeymoon will probably not last long though. The bus drivers continue weekly meetings to discuss workplace issues and prepare to fight for a better contract when their current one expires in July 2013.
We're Not Going Back
"We wanted to show the new management that we're united. We're not going back to the way things were before."
Scott Ranney, Bus Driver
Local 597, Vermont
May 20, 2011: Bus drivers in Vermont have a new contract thanks to a year-long rank-and-file campaign that reached out to the community.
Just hours before their strike deadline, Teamster bus drivers in Vermont won a contract that delivers on the key issues.
The victory is the result of a well-organized contract campaign which proved once again that the best way to avoid a strike is to be prepared to win one.
Offer Rejected 52 to 6
Local 597 members overwhelming rejected a contract offer from the Chittenden County Transit Authority by a vote of 52 to 6. The rejected deal was agreed to by Local 597 officials behind the backs of the drivers’ elected bargaining committee.
The overwhelming contract rejection put CCTA management over a barrel. They had already publicly admitted that they would not be able to operate without the Teamster drivers.
And drivers had organized widespread public support thanks to early outreach to activists in other unions who organized a solidarity campaign.
The final contract talks lasted a grueling 10 hours. With a strike deadline looming, management caved in on drivers’ key issues.
- Protecting Full-Time Jobs: The new agreement provides the first-ever 40-hour guarantee for most full-time drivers. Management wanted to eliminate full-timers to 37½ hours a week.
- Scheduling Improvements: The new contract protects drivers from forced overtime and limits the spread time that drivers can be forced to work on a split shift.
- Ending Kangaroo Court Justice: The new contract includes language changes that will mean a more fair disciplinary procedure—including establishing the just cause principle, requiring progressive discipline, and establish a washout clause so management can’t keep old offenses hanging over drivers’ heads.
11th Hour Victory
The victory was won at the 11th hour but the successful contract campaign was anything but last minute.
Drivers held workshops with Teamsters for a Democratic Union a year in advance to begin preparing a contract campaign.
They organized a member-to-member communication network, built community support, organized rallies and a “Just Practicing” picket, and stood up to both management and their own local union officials.
We Stuck Together and Won!
“When members stick together, good things happen,” said TDU member Scott Ranney.
“When the no vote is 52 to 6, management and Local 597 officers had to stand up to take notice.”
April 4, 2011: Fifty Teamster bus drivers and public supporters held a “Just Practicing” picket in Burlington as part of the April 4 National Day of Action. Will a strike be next?
Armed with signs saying, “Ready to Strike If We Have Too,” working Teamsters and supporters rallied in front of the Chittenden County Transportation Authority.
Today’s picket line was “Just Practicing” drivers say. But real Local 597 picket lines may be going up soon.
Teamster drivers are voting on a “final offer” from the CCTA. The regional bus company wants to cut full-time drivers’ guaranteed hours down to 37½ hours a week and to expand the use of part-time drivers.
Drivers say “Part-Time Vermont Won’t Work.” They say a contract is within reach if CCTA management will stop trying to force through cuts that will hurt public employees, public services and the riding public.
Teamster drivers have enjoyed broad public support and were joined on their “Just Practicing” picket line today by students, members of other unions and CCTA riders.
“We’d all rather be driving a bus than walking a picket line. But we’re ready to strike if that’s the only way we can get the CCTA to reason with us,” said shop steward Mike Walker.
The ballots on management’s final offer will be counted on Sun., April 10. Members say they fully expect the contract to be rejected.
Click here to watch video: Drivers Threaten to Strike.
March 25, 2011: Teamster school bus drivers are organizing for change in New York Local 854—including at Outstanding Transport where for years the company has gotten away with paying drivers no overtime pay and paying bus aides less than the minimum wage.
Members at Outstanding met with TDU and launched a plan to enforce their rights—including group grievances, outreach to the media, and an investigation by the state Department of Labor into the company’s wage and hour violations.
Unhappy, the company pushed back by firing Kim Session, one of the workers who has been at the center of members’ organizing.
But Session is back on the job, with full back pay, thanks to solidarity from TDU and 854 Members for Change, a committee of drivers and matrons from across Local 854.
The company claimed Session was being fired for falsifying times on trip-cards for her scheduled runs. But matrons don’t even fill out trip cards.
Owner Charlie Curcio revealed the real reason for the firing when he pulled out group grievances signed by more than a hundred members and complained that Session’s name was on the top of each one.
TDU and 854 Members for Change hit back from every angle.
Within days, the employer had been contacted by the Department of Labor, a City Council member, the New York Daily News, and the National Labor Relations Board.
Teamsters from multiple companies distributed bulletins calling for solidarity and union action.
The company backed down and returned Session to work with full back pay.
“854 Members for Change and TDU really stood behind me. I’ve never seen support like that before,” Session said.
“This fight is about everybody,” said Vincent Lattimore, a TDU member from Local 237 who helped leaflet the company to protest Kim’s unjust firing.
“Teamsters have to stick together. That’s what TDU is all about.”
“Members are used to the companies pushing Local 854 around,” said driver Pierre Jerome.
“Winning Kim’s job back, we showed that members can stand up for ourselves.”
February 18, 2010: Labor and community supporters are rallying to protect good jobs and quality bus service in Vermont.
Labor and community supporters rallied at City Hall in Burlington, Vt. to support Teamster bus drivers.
United by the slogan, “We’re all on this bus together,” passengers, drivers, mechanics, students and members of other unions, crammed a City Hall auditorium to back drivers’ contract proposals to protect drivers and improve bus service.
Drivers voted down a proposed contract by 36 to 1 in November. They want an end to 18-hour split shifts with forced overtime, a fair grievance procedure, and reasonable schedules that provide reliable service without jeopardizing passenger safety.
“We want the drivers to be able to drive safely,” Nancy Welch, an English professor at the University of Vermont and member of the United Academics union, told the Burlington Free Press.
Students who attended the rally told the media they were backing the drivers’ demands for safety and respect because they depended on CCTA for transportation.
CCTA management also wants to hire part-time drivers—but Teamster members and their community supporters say, “Part-Time Vermont Won’t Work.”
Notably absent from the rally were any officials from Teamsters Local 597. Secretary-Treasurer Ron Rabideau demanded that the Vermont AFL-CIO Central Labor Council retract its call for solidarity with the Teamster drivers.
Union members and the community turned out at City Hall to support Teamster members all the same.
The CCTA responded to the rally by convening an emergency board meeting. It’s up to Transit Authority brass to decide if they want to negotiate a fair agreement or take on a growing community-labor alliance for a better CCTA.
February 14, 2011: Representatives from several unions and student groups rallied Sunday behind Chittenden County Transportation Authority bus drivers fighting for a new contract.
Bus driver Jim Fouts, who helped organize the rally in Contois Auditorium at Burlington City Hall, told the audience of more than 60 people “we’re all on this bus together.”
Click here to read more at Burlington Free Press.
December 20, 2010: Teamster bus drivers in Vermont are reaching out to the riding public to win a contract that improves conditions for both drivers and passengers.
Teamster bus drivers in Vermont are used to cold weather. But even that didn’t prepare them for the chilly reception they got when they signed up to make public comments at the Board of Directors of their employer, the Chittenden County Transportation Authority (CCTA).
After voting 36 to 1 to reject a weak contract offer, Local 597 members attended the board meeting to state their case and tell the CCTA and the public what it would take to reach a fair agreement.
Members Beat Gag Order
Instead, the CCTA board shut down public comments. Their gag order prevailed—but Teamsters didn’t go quietly. They came back for a special CCTA board meeting. And this time they brought friends.
As the head of the CCTA steamed, drivers and members of the public lined up to speak out in favor of a contract that will improve conditions for both drivers and the public, including:
- Safe and Reliable Schedules. The current schedules at CCTA make drivers work split shifts, leaving them exhausted. Scheduling improvements will mean better safety for both drivers and more reliable and on-time service for passengers.
- Respect for Employees and a Fair Disciplinary Procedure. Local 597 bus drivers have a stressful job made worse by a kangaroo court disciplinary procedure. Drivers want a fair procedure and treatment with respect and dignity.
- Full-Time Drivers for Quality Service. Full-time drivers mean good jobs for Vermont and good service for passengers.
“Our overwhelming No Vote and the support we’re getting from the public sends a clear message to the CCTA that we’re ready to negotiate a reasonable agreement—and we’re not going to roll over,” said driver Jim Fouts.
Reaching Out to the Public
Fouts is a member of the Sunday Breakfast Club, a group of rank-and-file Teamsters who organized a contract action network to inform and unite Local 597 members. They’ve also been reaching out to students, unions and community groups for support.
The CCTA is the largest public transportation agency in Vermont, so public support is critical. Incredibly, Local 597 officials have objected to solidarity efforts from Vermont labor.
The Vermont AFL-CIO Central Labor Council asked local unions to attend the CCTA Board of Directors meeting, but then retracted their call for support at the request of Local 597 principal officer Ron Rabideau, saying the contract dispute was an “internal matter” that “does not involve the Vermont AFL-CIO.”
Fortunately, Vermont union members put union solidarity ahead of politics. Their public show of support for Teamster bus drivers helped bring the CCTA back to the bargaining table.
“The outstanding issues are non-economic and there’s no reason we can’t reach a deal that improves working conditions and service at the CCTA,” said Chuck Norris-Brown. “We’re going to stay united and keep working with the public to make sure that happens.”
We’re Ready to Negotiate. Not to Roll Over.
“Our overwhelming No Vote and the support we’re getting from the public sends a clear message to the CCTA that we’re ready to negotiate a reasonable agreement—and we’re not going to roll over.”
Jim Fouts, CCTA Local 597, Burlington, Vt.
We’re Going to Stay United.
“The outstanding issues are non-economic and there’s no reason we can’t reach a deal that improves working conditions and service at the CCTA.
“We’re going to stay united and keep working with the public to make sure that happens.”
Chuck Norris-Brown, CCTA Local 597, Burlington, Vt.