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Vol. 77/No. 45      December 16, 2013

On the Picket Line

Boston school bus drivers blast union busting at council hearing

BOSTON — More than 200 school bus drivers and their supporters packed the city council chambers and an adjoining overflow room here Nov. 21 for a special hearing that discussed Veolia Transportation’s attacks against them and their union, United Steelworkers Local 8751.

Drivers and other union activists who spoke at the hearing explained how Veolia, which was awarded a contract by the city in July to bus some 30,000 students daily, locked them out for one day Oct. 8, after refusing to meet to discuss union grievances over contract violations.

“It was a well orchestrated and well calculated effort of union busting,” Stevan Kirschbaum, chair of the union’s grievance committee, told the hearing.

Following the lockout, Veolia management fired Kirschbaum and three other union leaders — Vice President Steve Gillis, Recording Secretary Andre Francois and steward and former Local President Gary Murchison.

Transportation contractor Veolia operates school bus systems in more than 130 areas in the U.S. and Canada. It signed an agreement with the union before it took over the Boston contract to maintain all current employees and honor the union contract.

On Oct. 7, a day before the lockout, company management called all drivers to tell them they had to come in and fill out a new-hire application, along with a background check waiver.

The next morning drivers refused to work until they could discuss what they saw as disregard for the agreement the company made.

“We demanded a meeting with them,” Gillis, the fired vice president, said, “or that they schedule a set time for one.”

The company responded with the lockout, firing of union leaders and 864 letters of reprimand to drivers.

Veolia officials and Mayor Thomas Menino were invited to address the city council meeting but didn’t show up. The mayor has called the drivers “selfish people who only want to cause disruption in our city.”

“They ignored us. They disrespected us. Just like today,” Chantal Casimir, a driver out of the Readville yard, said.

Members of the public were invited to address the hearing, and a number took the floor to back the Steelworkers.

“We need to organize solidarity with the bus drivers,” Kevin Dwire, a member of UNITE HERE Local 26 and of the Socialist Workers Party, said. “Tomorrow it can be any of us. Our contract at Skychef is up next year.”

— Ted Leonard

Supermarket workers rally in DC for contract

WASHINGTON — Dozens of Giant and Safeway workers and supporters rallied Nov. 21 outside the grand opening of the new O Street Market Giant Foods store here to demand that the two grocery chains back down in their efforts to eliminate health benefits.

The grocery store workers — members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 — voted Nov. 13 to authorize a strike. The contract expired Oct. 31, but has been extended to Dec. 20. In the meantime, Giant and Safeway have begun recruiting scabs.

“We must be prepared to keep our stores open,” Safeway spokesman Greg Ten Eyck said in a statement Nov. 11.

“What they want to do is shift people out of health care — part-time workers, spouses and retirees,” Craig Simpson, a UFCW representative told the Militant at the protest.

“I have 15 years in and I still have to bump people off the schedule to get not even 40 hours,” Stephanie Pryor, who works at the Giant store in Greenbelt, Md., said.

Pryor is among the almost 13,000 workers at the two grocery chains in the D.C. area who can’t get full-time hours. “That has been the trend for about 10 years,” she said.

Pryor described how the expansion of part-time hiring forces more senior part-timers to take shifts from newer part-time workers in order to get more hours. This causes resentment and divisions among the workers, she said.

Many of her co-workers work at Giant because they get health benefits, Pryor said. If Giant and Safeway get their way, those workers, their spouses and retirees will have to buy insurance on the exchanges set up under the Affordable Health Care Act.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, D.C. nonvoting Delegate to Congress Eleanor Holmes Norton and other area politicians attended the grand opening, lavishing praise to Giant for bringing “good jobs” to the rapidly gentrifying Shaw-Howard neighborhood.

Paul Pederson

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