On Tuesday morning over 600 school bus drivers in Boston took wildcat action. They are angry at the complete ineffectiveness of their trade union (USW) and at the union-busting city administration, and the management style of Veolia, the private company now running the buses. Following an unsuccessful attempt at gaining an injunction, the mayor arranged a city wide scabbing operation by the police. The predictable purge and victimisation by bosses and union bureaucrats has now begun.
The dispute has been brought to a head due to the knock on effect of the Government shutdown. A dispute had been lodged with the National Labour Relations Board, but as they have not been working the dispute has not been looked at yet. The drivers decide to take matters into their own hands.
A handful of scabs entered the yard and tried to board their buses. As pickets tried to prevent them, police and USC bureaucrats intervened and enabled them to drive the buses out. A shouting match between pickets and bureaucrats ensued outside each of the four depots.
Drivers are furious that there pay is rarely ever paid correctly and can be as much as 40% down, which then takes two months to rectify (affects hundreds of drivers a week). A spokesperson for the city administration said that although he understood they pay-check issues, there are much more important issues at stake (I am sure his pay-check is fine).
Veolia acknowledge that there are problems but blame the drivers for not submitting their hours in the correct manner. Other issues is the bullying by Veolia management, and the use of a GPS tracking system that was intended to be used by parents to see where their children are, but is now being used by Veolia as a management tool to bully drivers.
Mayor Thomas Menino has stated that the action is ‘illegal’ under the terms of their contracts and that their behaviour will have ‘consequences’. His comments have been echoed by the USW bureaucrats. One of Melino’s advisors has gone on record to say that the participants in the strike are all ‘immigrants’ who really do not understand the issues, and have been ‘hoodwinked’ and ‘tricked’ into taking part. She claimed that they are renegades and intimidators who are breaking the terms of their contract. The average length of service of the 600 drivers is 20+ years, so I am sure they are well aware of the issues.
Steven Kirschbaum, one of the leaders of the action has been the victim of a smear campaign by the local media and the city mayor. Yesterday the Boston Globe published an article about Kirschbaum. They claimed that he had been a member of the Workers World Party, the All Peoples Congress, the Coalition for Equal Quality Education, and that he had been on an anti-KKK rally and protests about school closures and budget cuts. They had even trawled his Facebook account and found a tribute to General Vo Nguyen Giap, the former North Vietnamese military leader who died last week. They had interviewed the city mayor, Thomas Menino, who described Kirschbaum as a ‘bully’, and the leader of a ‘rogue element of renegades’. By rogue element presumably he means the 95%+ drivers who took part.
The court injunction was not granted as the sitting judge agreed with the USC that the strike was the work of one ‘rogue employee’ – Steven Kirschbaum. Kirschbaum and one other person have been suspended, and a further seven workers are ‘under investigation’.
As the issues that led to the walkout have not been resolved, and now participants are being bullied, it is likely that further actions are on the horizon. The drivers have submitted 16 demands to the bosses. They include, resolving the pay issues, scrapping the GPS system, proper breaks and restrooms, fair benefits, withdrawal of the Veolia employee handbook, and a halt of any action against employees resulting from the wildcat action. It is believed that Veolia will reject the demands, supported by city officials who are putting robust scabbing plans in place for any future walkout.