Solidarity in action

A brief history of the shuttle bus driver's union

By Gene Stroop, Shuttle Bus Drivers' Union officer
April 1990; pages 5, 11; Volume 1, No. 5

Reprinted from High Beam, the newsletter of ATU 1549.

Why do we have a Union here - has it made any difference? Well, here's what I remember about the union's history:

In the early days of the UT shuttle bus operation, the company (TEI) followed some bad habits, like giving charters to supervisors and giving good routes to favored drivers, running buses with unrepaired safety defects, and promising safety bonuses and pay raises and then backing out. So in 1972 the drivers came together in a union and demanded that the company bargain with them over work assignments, safety and pay. The company refused to bargain - so in February 1972 the drivers went on strike. The company hired "scab" employees to try to break the drivers' strike, but they couldn't do it. After eight week of providing bad service to UT, the company finally agreed to put the striking drivers back to work, pay them all a raise, and sign a contract with the drivers' new union, ATU 1549.

By fighting for a contract, the 1972 union drivers gave us our still-existing right to have a grievance and arbitration procedure. If we had not won this right we could still be fired for no reason and there would still be nothing we could do about it. But because of the grievance and arbitration procedure, many employees have kept their jobs and some have received back pay for the time they were off the job.

The 1972 union drivers also gave us our still-existing right to bid for a regular day shift. Without this right, we could be told on any given day that "our" shift is not "ours" any more because the company just gave it to somebody else.

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The 1972 union drivers also got us the right to refuse to drive a bus if we believe its condition may risk the health or safety of any person including ourselves. That right still exists even though most of us act like we don't believe it.

And, thanks to the 1972 union drivers, we have leaves of absence, seniority, pay for jury duty, regularly assigned buses, the right to substitute routes, and payroll deduction of union dues (instead of paying dues out of our pockets).

By 1974, the union had got us a better contract that included all previously won rights, plus a pay-raise, a cost-of-living increase each year and safety guarantees.

In 1975 the union got us our break during each shift. The IF schedule was just too demanding without a break in the middle. So all the union drivers on the IF route just started sitting out one lap in the middle of our shifts. It spread like wildfire. Drivers on all other routes started doing the same thing. The same week, about 30 union drivers walked in on a meeting of the UT shuttle bus committee, and when it was over, we had official break periods. And in 1975 the union got us more humane schedules and the five-minute rule - so it's okay to arrive early by five minutes or less.

In 1976 negotiations, the company set out to bust the drivers' union. The company made a "take it or leave it" offer, and refused to negotiate further. The drivers had to go out on strike again. Again, the company hired strikebreakers and promised all of them permanent jobs. But a few months later, most of the strikebreakers were out of the buses, and the drivers who were on stike were back in.

The company tried to fire many of the drivers during the strike, to try to prevent them from returning to work. But the National Labor Relations Board found the company guilty of violating federal labor lawas and ordered the company to put all strikers back to work. Then the NLRB held an election, in which the drivers and maintenance employees voted for ATU 1549 to be their official voice. The company appealed, but the judges ordered the company to recognize the union and get to the bargaining table. Ever since then we employees have had the right to bargain, with a union as our voice.

In recent years the union members have held on to their bargaining rights and gained further improvements whenever possible - driver shuttles, trash cans on the lot, clean restrooms (this need attention) and paid charter meals and motels.

TEI, the old company, never stopped fighting against our bargaining rights - our human rights. Laidlaw has never stopped fighting these rights either. Some companies don't want to recognize human rights whenever the humans are at work.

In 1986 and '87 Laidlaw refused to bargain with us over the terms of their drug testing policy, fired seven drivers, suspended 18, then tried to fire the 18. But an arbitrator ordered Laidlaw to return everybody to work and stop the policy - all because Laidlaw had deliberately ignored the employees' bargaining rights.

Since Laidlaw can't legally sneak around our right to bargain, now they want to mow it down in contract negotiations. For more than a year and a half since negotiations began in September 1988, Laidlaw has continually refused to talk MONEY unless the union representatives would agree to handcuff the employees' bargaining rights. Our answer is no. Why?

Only by standing together in a union have we been able to keep any rights we have. Above all else, just remember this: Until the drivers got together in a union, they never got paid more than the minimum wage rate. That's a fact. Back then that was $1.60. Today minimum wage would be $3.35, but our pay is two or three dollars higher as a result of union contracts.

In this country, human beings are equals. Even if they work for a company, a union of human beings can participate in the decisions that affect their lives while at work. The right to bargain is, quite simply, our right to stand up for ourselves and for each other. If we gave that up, we might as well be stomping on the fingers of all those people over the last 18 years, who held on when it was their turn. Now it's our turn - we will hold on to our bargaining rights.