Stinger drivers vote “yes” on union

The drivers of the Tech Trolleys and Stinger buses have voted unanimously to join the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 728. This vote coincided with unanimous decisions to join the Teamsters by the other groups of drivers who are employed by First Transit. First Transit, a subsidiary company of FirstGroup PLC, is the employer of drivers at Tech, Emory University, Georgia State University and other Atlanta locales.

In all, 170 drivers were eligible to partake in the vote that would confirm the Teamsters as the official representatives of the First Transit drivers. The vote among drivers at Tech was 27-0.

“I’ve never seen, since I’ve been dealing with unions, a vote that had been unanimous,” said Hans Reid, a driver at Tech. “I’m glad that [the vote] is all over. Now we can get working on the contract.”

Reid initially contacted the Teamsters last Fall with the idea of forming a union. With 116 drivers voting in favor of the Teamsters, they will now represent the drivers in contract negotiations. Negotiations are expected to get started within the next two months.

“It was clear that the workers stood together in a united voice,” said Ben Speight, organizer with the Teamsters. “We are expecting to move into negotiations shortly.”

Currently the drivers are organizing in preparations for a meeting to bargain for a new contract. They must first elect a negotiating committee that will represent all the drivers in the contract talks. The members of the elected committee will represent the various groups of drivers from around the city. The drivers must also decide on what they will be negotiating for with First Transit. Surveys are being sent to all the drivers so they can select their top contract priorities. The union will then take the most important and most achievable issues to form the basis for their contract, according to Reid.

“The union can provide us with better wages and health care. There are no benefits offered to us,” said Brenda Knox, a bus operator.

“I have never had a job that didn’t provide [benefits, holidays and sick days],” Reid said.

On top of issues surrounding worker pay and benefits, the drivers also have cited problems with worker treatment and working conditions as a reason to form a union. Bus drivers have complained about being mistreated on the job and being berated by their supervisors, according to Speight. They have also said that the working conditions are unsafe and sometimes dangerous.

One specific hazard was that the drivers claimed that one of the vents on a Tech Trolley had been exhausting extremely hot air. They claimed that the air was so hot that it gave them burns.

In two Physician Activity Status Reports from Concentra Medical Centers provided by the Teamsters, drivers Knox and Theodore Barnes were treated for lower leg burns of the first degree in the month of January.

William Hinton, another driver who had complained about the heat from the Trolleys, had been released from his job by First Transit. In a settlement between First Transit and Hinton, provided by the Teamsters, he was reinstated to his position as driver without any loss of seniority or status. First Transit would also provide six weeks of back pay at a rate of 40 hours per week. First Transit also could not take any retaliatory actions against Hinton based on charges related to the settlement.

In the settlement, First Transit would also have to investigate and take appropriate action to address safety concerns related to excessive engine heat on the Tech Trolleys. The Teamsters agreed that they would not to file a charge with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.