Transit Union Takes Bus Company to the End of the Line

by Joshua Freeze
Vol. 2 #2, March 1999
The Working Stiff Journal

For the second time in a decade, Amalgamated Transit Union local 1549, representing the UT Shuttle drivers and maintenance crew, has succeeded in pushing Laidlaw Transportation, the largest transit company in the world, out of town. On Jan. 25 the board of Capitol Metro voted to award the contract for the UT Shuttle work to ATC/Vancom, a privately held company based in Illinois.

When asked about the decision, Gene Stroop, president of ATU 1549, stated, "Based on the questions that were asked by the board, Metro’s concerns were for a cheap operator and for a labor-friendly operator. Those two are conflicting motives in practical terms. Nevertheless, the recommended contractor turns out to be much cheaper and still has a reputation for better labor relations than Laidlaw. Capital Metro supplies its own reasons related to cost, and the drivers supplied Capital Metro with reasons not to contract with any union-busting company. The union had told the board that there would be trouble if they gave the contract to any union-busting company, especially Laidlaw."

The University contracts to Capitol Metro, which in turn subcontracts the work to a third party. The union contract is with that third party, currently Laidlaw.

When asked about ATC, Stroop responded, "It’s a mixed reaction right now. In my experience, all transit operators are tough on employees and ATC will probably be no different, but they also have a reputation for fewer unfair labor practices than Laidlaw. My true attitude about that is ‘wait and see.’ I’m determined to get off to a good start with the new company and I hope they’ll meet us half-way."

The first time Laidlaw was driven out of town, a coalition of drivers and students pushed Metro to take the contract away from Laidlaw in 1992. Due to extreme safety violations stemming from the company’s failure to maintain the buses, they convinced Metro that Laidlaw’s contract should not be renewed. The pressure was exacerbated by weekly front page articles in The Daily Texan about Laidlaw’s failings.

ATU 1549’s labor contract ends Dec. 31, 1999. On that matter, Stroop said simply, "We’re ready."

Joshua Freeze is Recording Secretary of ATU 1549 and Branch Secretary of the IWW.