Rallying against transit change

Students, former bus drivers and union representatives gathered in front of the Department of Parking and Transportation’s office at the corner of Spring and West Peachtree St. last Monday in rally against Tech’s recent switch to transit services firm Groome Transportation.

The rally was the second one organized by the Teamsters Local 728 (the bus drivers’ union), with the first occurring Jan. 4th when campus formally opened up after the break. The rallies come after 40 Stinger bus and Tech Trolley drivers lost their jobs when Tech formally switched its transportation contract from First Transit, Inc. to Groome. Although there was no formal clause in any contract signed by Tech, Groome or the drivers to ensure their jobs, drivers expected to retain their jobs with the switch based on past instances of contractor changes.

Members of the union allege that despite the suggestion of a job fair and interviews from a Parking and Transportation representative no such event occurred. In addition, protestors believe that Groome is “union-busting”, due to the fact that all 40 drivers dismissed were unionized.

“We’re not trying to [tie] ends together that don’t fit, but what is clear to us is that it is a very lucrative contract for Groome that they are trying to instigate it. But they are doing it in an illegal, immoral way by kicking drivers to the curb,” said Ben Speight, an organizer for Teamsters 728.

“We’re basically proposing is that Groome sit down one day with all 40 of the drivers and hire all of them, we may concede that there may be one or two exceptions to that. To be quite honest with you we can’t concede anything less than that. We want them hired and to be hired now. We may ask for back pay that they’ve been unjustly out of work. We ask for these people back and on the job,” Speight said. “Our goal is not to disrupt operations of the bus services out there. Our goal is to get people working who were unjustly terminated.”

Since the dismissals, which occurred last Dec., the former bus drivers and the teamsters have filed a legal complaint concerning the matter at Groome only. However, protestors hope that their actions will encourage the Tech administration to call for action in this dispute.

“I think Dr. Peterson has an opportunity to show his leadership on this campus and that he can leave a legacy of justice and fairness on this campus,” Speight said.

However, Tech representatives state that they have no current or future intention to take action concerning this matter.

“Georgia Tech doesn’t have standing to step in. There is no contract specification that gives calls for us to play a role in Groome Transportation’s hiring process. We hire Groome, and that’s the end of our involvement… they’re not our employees, they’re Groome’s employees,” said Jim Fetig, associate vice president of communications and marketing. “The employee relationship was with First Transit, First Transit no longer has a contract. That relationship ended when that contract ended. Now you have a new employer in a right-to-work state so as long as employer follows state law in the hiring of their new employees and those employees meet the contract specifications, as long as those contract specifications are met, Georgia Tech [is] satisfied.”

Concerning the matter, a Groome Transportation representative issued the following statement in regards to the situation:

“We started our hiring process in Oct. of 2009. Since that time we have received over 250 applications. Approximately 17 of the applications were First Transit Employees. We have attempted to contact 12 First Transit employees that applied for a position with us. Only seven showed up for their interview and of those five were offered a position with our company. With this showing it has become evident that a large number of the employees that service the GA Tech Contract have been retained by First Transit and placed in other contracts throughout Atlanta.”

Although Speight and the Teamsters deem Groome’s actions as “immoral” and “illegal”, officials at Groome stand by their decisions.

“We are confident that when the facts are known that courts will determine that our actions were appropriate,” said Chris Groome, vice president of safety and service at Groome.