January 19, 2007 Volume 108 Number 2
SEIU campaign to organize bus drivers stalls
A union campaign among school bus drivers at Gresham-Barlow School District failed to win a majority in a Jan. 5 vote. With 103 drivers eligible to unionize, the vote was 44 for and 49 against joining Service Employees International Union Local 503.
The drivers are employed by First Student, a multinational corporation which has the contract to provide bus service to the 12,000-student school district.
Starting wages among drivers in Gresham are $11 an hour, and some drivers wanted comparable pay of unionized school bus drivers at nearby school districts.
For SEIU, the narrow loss was a setback in its “Driving Up Standards” campaign to unionize First Student, the second-largest private bus company in the United States. In the campaign, SEIU is allied with the the Teamsters and Great Britain’s Transport and General Workers Union. First Student is owned by UK-based FirstGroup.
Local SEIU organizers believed First Student would stay neutral, as promised after a stockholder protest at the company’s 2006 annual meeting in Aberdeen, Scotland. But in the final days before the local election, First Student management came out strongly against the union, a union spokesperson said.
The same thing happened in 2003, when another local union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757, tried to unionize the same group of drivers. Local 757 staff attorney Susan Stoner said First Student managers created an atmosphere of threat and intimidation, conducted surveillance when union organizers came to talk to workers, and stirred up conflict among the workers and then used that to predict endless turmoil if the union were to win. ATU lost 73 to 33.
SEIU has union campaigns among First Student workers at the Tigard School District, as well as in Jacksonville, Fla., and Minneapolis, Minn.
Meanwhile, the Teamsters have won union elections among First Student workers in Anchorage, Alaska., and Baltimore, Md. There are about 22,000 First Student drivers in the United States.
© Oregon Labor Press Publishing Co. Inc.