First Student is the largest school bus operator in North America, with over 50,000 workers in more than 1,000 school districts. Drivers have been forced out on strike in Pasadena, Glendale and Alhambra in Southern California; Montreal; Manchester, England; as well as Seattle so far this year. It’s a subsidiary of FirstGroup in the United Kingdom, one of the largest bus operators there.
The company is notorious for having rock-bottom wages and unsafe working conditions. “Their business model is based on paying their employees as little as possible with no benefits,” Teamster spokeswoman Jamie Fleming told the Seattle Times.
“I’m here because I want the company to give people what we deserve,” Barbara King, who has worked 32 years as a driver, told Socialist Workers Party members who visited the strike picket line in solidarity Feb. 2. “You hear about how a lot of people in this country are just a couple paychecks from being homeless. Well, the company wants to add us to that list!”
The main issues are health care and pensions. People on the picket line told us that many of the drivers work a split shift totaling only four to six hours a day.
The company claims it agreed to cover health care for part-time workers, but drivers on the picket line said that the family monthly cost would be at least $1,000.
Abe Taylor, Teamsters 174 business agent, told us only a quarter of the 400 drivers are classified full time. “While workers work four to six hours a day, they must be available and ready for work 12 hours a day,” he said.
The company urged workers to cross the picket line, he said, offering full-time hours to anyone who would scab, as well as an extra $25 a day and free lunch.
The next day SWP members knocked on workers’ doors in the neighborhood near one of the bus barns. We talked to Jai Washington, who told us she sympathized with the bus drivers.
“This is an inconvenience for me because I have to have my child use Metro buses rather than the school bus,” she said. “But everyone is entitled to decent health care coverage and I hope they get what they deserve.”
Teamsters Local 572, which represents the drivers in Southern California, announced Jan. 31 that it had reached an agreement with First Student there after a two-week strike. In addition to better pay and benefits, one of the main issues had been safety on the job. Driver James Motty told the press that he reported broken equipment on his buses numerous times, but was ordered to drive them anyway.
“We wanted to show the boss and the government that we are determined to be recognized,” Victor Escobar, who’s been working there for four years, told the Militant. “We are also looking for parents’ support. We are doing this for them and their children.”
Carole Laplante, local union president, said the company proposed a five-year contract with no pay raise the first two years and then just 50 percent of the Consumer Price Index rate for the next three years. The unionists rejected the offer by 98 percent, demanding a three-year contract with 2 percent raises each year.
The 330 drivers transport almost 15,000 children each day. Transco is part of First Student, the largest school bus operator in North America.
Maintenance workers from Mears joined IT workers from Fujitsu and bus drivers from First Manchester. The Mears workers have been on strike first three and now four days out of five each week since May 2017. “We are paid up to £5,000 [$7,000] less a year than other maintenance workers,” shop steward Billy Sinclair told the rally. “We are not taking a step back now. And we will support Ian Allinson!”
Allinson, a worker and union representative at Fujitsu, told the rally how he was fired Jan. 12 in the midst of workers ongoing fight against layoffs. This is the third time they’ve voted to strike.
First Manchester drivers, at the Rusholme depot, carried flags and banners saying, “Pay parity for Rusholme bus drivers.” They have been on strike three days a week since October fighting for higher wages. They get paid £9.55 per hour, whereas drivers at the company’s other Manchester depot are paid £12.10 per hour.
With the victory, the New York Hotel Trades Council, which represents the 147 workers, ended its boycott of the 385-room hotel, the largest in the area. It’s located blocks from the state Capitol and government buildings.
The union contract with Long Island-based United Capital real estate investment company, which acquired the hotel in 2015, expired in April 2017. Bosses proposed eliminating a week of vacation, shortening bereavement leave from five to three days and replacing workers’ pensions with a 401(k) plan. These concessions were dropped in the contract that was adopted, and workers won a wage increase.
Hotel workers on their days off, joined by union staffers from Washington, D.C., New York and other cities and by Albany-area workers, would chant “No contract, no peace!” and “Don’t check in, check out!” in front of the Hilton. Several expanded picket rallies attracted large crowds. Management parked a large U-Haul truck outside the hotel entrance, trying — unsuccessfully — to prevent customers from seeing the pickets.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a prominent Democrat with presidential ambitions who poses as a “friend of labor,” waited for over a month after picketing began to tell state agencies to stop patronizing the hotel.