On January 2, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 728 released a statement revealing that the bus workers of First Transit Inc. have called for the formation of a union. Tech employs First Transit bus drivers to operate the Stinger buses and Tech Trolleys. First Transit is a subsidiary of FirstGroup PLC, and operates shuttle bus services in several metro Atlanta locations, including Emory University, Georgia State University and Georgia Power.
“What we’re asking as a union is that the [Tech] campus community… is aware of the situation out there, and if they are so moved, show their solidarity for the workers that are trying to provide for their families,” said Ben Speight, an organizer with the Teamsters.
Of the nearly 160 drivers that the Teamsters will be representing in the union negotiations with First Transit, around 30 of them work as drivers for Tech. Since Tech contracts out its driving operations to First Transit, Tech and the other entities using First Transit drivers will be bystanders in the contract negotiations.
“Everybody recognizes that employees have [the right to form a union]. Quite frankly, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner. In the transit industry that’s … normal…. Right now we’re just following to see how things play out in the next weeks and months…. It’s pretty much a contractor issue between [them and] their employees,” said David Williamson, assistant director of Transportation. Williamson believes that it was still early in the process and Tech would take a wait and see posture.
The process to begin forming a union started last September when Tech bus driver Hans Reid contacted the Teamsters. Reid was hired as a driver last January, but after experiencing several problems on the job, he approached the Teamsters with the idea of forming a union.“When I first got hired, I was told I would get 40 hours of work a week and [a few days] of vacation pay…. [Management] didn’t say they were going to cut the [amount of work] hours in the summer. If I knew that I wouldn’t have come to the job,” Reid said.
Speight outlined four key priorities that the drivers have determined to address in the new contract. These were a living wage, paid holidays and sick days, a means for obtaining affordable health insurance and addressing safety concerns with the vehicles, such as broken lights and scorching heaters. The drivers have also raised issue with the way First Transit management treated the drivers, claiming management acted in an unprofessional manner by publicly berating some employees.
The drivers believed a union would be important to provide them a voice. They claimed management would tell the drivers one thing but act another way, and they were frustrated that it was hard for them to get a straight explanation.
“Just being treated fairly would be good,” said one driver who would not allow himself to be named, citing the current status of the unionizing process. The driver claimed that they witnessed nearly 80 drivers come and go in almost two years, believing such high turnaround suggested an inherent problem with the way First Transit operates.
By the second or third week of February, the First Transit bus workers will vote in a secret ballot to decide whether to certify the Teamsters as the official representative for the drivers. Reid believes that the Teamsters will be certified without any issue. It won’t be until the Teamsters are certified to represent the bus workers at the negotiating table that serious talks with First Transit will begin.
When called for comment on the formation of the bus workers’ union, First Transit Region Vice President Scott Conroy declined to comment. First Transit holds many county and city public transportation contracts. The Teamsters represent thousands of First Transit workers in some of these other metro areas.