Rally Against First Student - December 4, 2008

Boisterous Bus Drivers Picket First Student

The members had gathered to protest the recent firings of 4 drivers in the recent months. First Student, which bought out Laidlaw Transit last year to become the largest operator of school buses in North America, took on the UTU 1741 contract as part of their contract with the San Francisco Unified School District. As the school year began, First Student, elevating their Company Handbook above the legally negotiated, signed and ratified UTU contract, unilaterally declared that any driver involved in a rear end accident would be fired. The UTU contract has a clear and coherent policy of progressive discipline that has been followed by companies who have held the bussing contract in the past. Workers outrage grew as drivers began to be fired. The most egregious firing concerned Robert Newcomer (click here for more). Newcomer began driving a school bus in 1974. He had a perfect driving record going back 24 years! After a minor rear end accident, he was fired. The Union took his case to mediation, and won--but First Student refused to follow the mediator's recommendation to rehire Mr. Newcomer, and is taking the case to arbitration.

In addition to this, our union is very upset about what it believes may be illegal background checks conducted by First Student. After making one of these background checks on driver Katonya Bell, and finding something they didn't approve of, First Student fired the single mother of two. Katonya won her mediation, First Student refused the mediator's ruling, and now Katonya awaits her arbitration without a job or paycheck as the holidays approach.

Description of Events By Shane Hoff:

San Francisco, CA When it was all over, dispatcher Beau Tompkins said it best: "I've never been prouder to be part of an organization than I was today." What made the long time dispatcher so proud, was the defiant, boisterous picket line set up outside of the First Student bus yard in San Francisco by close to a hundred angry school bus drivers, dispatchers, office staff, yard workers, supervisors and mechanics--- all proud members of UTU 1741.

What Do We Want? There were a variety of picket signs urging First Student to immediately:

o rehire the unjustly fired drivers (four at present and counting)

o follow the federal mediator's recommendations and reinstate the drivers with back pay and benefits

o honor, respect and follow our contract

o end the climate of fear and intimidation on the job

Labor Support

We were joined on the picket line by our mechanics (Automotive Mechanics 1414) The American Federation of Teachers 2121, JP Jones, the State Legislative Director for the UTU, Bonnie Morr, International Alternate Vice President, West, for the Bus Department, and the General Chair for her local in Santa Cruz, and Elizabeth Woodbridge, President of Local 23 in Santa Cruz.

Union truckers and tour-bus drivers passing by honked their horns in solidarity and one Coach USA bus driver even stopped to get our literature. The Labor Video Project videotaped our event and has now posted some film on YouTube. Check the links below.

Marching in solidarity were the dispatchers, office staff, yardmen and TM's of UTU 1741. Picketers cheered when fired drivers Robert Newcomer, Katonya Bell and Paulette Spenser joined the line. Drivers new and old walked the line together. An informal, completely unscientific survey of old drivers discovered a unanimous opinion that First Student is by far the worst company ever to hold the bussing contract with the San Francisco Unified School District. Newer drivers could only compare First Student to Laidlaw, and they were overheard commenting that conditions now are much worse for drivers. New driver Julio was touched to be a part of the picket and said, " This is very inspiring to me. It makes me feel a part of something. Like what happens to one of us, happens to all of us." After the rally, dispatcher Beau Tompkins said on the air, " I've never been prouder to be part of an organization than I was today."

Some special thank yous have to go out to: the Living Wage Coalition who sent our union's press release out on an email blast to all the media in the city; the organizers of our rally and picket- Shane Hoff and Paul Stein; those members who worked with Laurie Cahn to write the informational leaflet for the rally and the 15 drivers who made 100 picket signs-- some of which are pictured here in the newsletter. Thanks to every phone tree captain who spent time calling our drivers for the event, and an especially big thank you to all who walked and chanted with righteous anger on the picket line. The combined efforts of all these people made our event a great success.

Channel 2 filmed and aired the picket line on the afternoon and evening news. Channel 14 filmed and did interviews--and then didn't show them! Well, at least Vidal and Mallory got some practice doing media in Spanish. Driver Laurie Cahn did an interview with the Examiner and with radio station KPFA. First Student's union busting practices are now known to people outside of our union family. If you weren't there, you really missed something-- and if someone abruptly cuts in front of you on the freeway tomorrow and you cannot avoid rear-ending them, you will know in a very personal way why we were out there on Dec. 4

UTU 1741 plans to keep the heat on First Student. We've won every grievance that we've filed on behalf of our fired drivers in Mediation. However, First Student is not going to give up easily-- but neither are we. Our next step will be to go to the Board of Education and ask for their help in forcing First Student to honor our contract, which they accepted as part of the bid specs when they bought out Laidlaw. After that, we plan on winning each and every case for our illegally fired brothers and sisters in arbitration. Mediation is not binding, but if we win in arbitration, it is binding on First Student.

History has shown us that people power is one of the most powerful forces on earth. Get in touch with that power and join us next time First Student gives us a reason to protest. Most likely it will be sooner rather than later.

Robert Newcomer - Driver Arbitrarily Fired After 24 Accident Free Years (Click here to read about the tragic story)

IndyBay of San Francisco Story (Click here to read it)

YouTube - First Student UTU 1741 SF School Bus Drivers Picket (Click here to see the video of the rally)

KPFA Interview with Laurie Cahn (mp3 file) - (Click here to listen to the KPFA interview)

SFUSD Officials to Contact - Please Call, Write or Email and Tell Them Your Concerns About First Student (Click here for PDF document)

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