Tech students have recently noticed an increase in fees and a vicious labor dispute. Workers’ and students’ rights are under siege. We must defend public education and workers’ rights to unionize.
In Feb. 2008, the Tech Stinger, shuttle and Trolley drivers voted unanimously to form a union, affiliating with The International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 728. Over the holidays this winter all 40 drivers were unlawfully dismissed. Drivers discovered through a newspaper advertisement that they were being replaced two weeks before Christmas. Tech decided to contract transit services with a new company who hired non-union inexperienced drivers. The switch from First Transit to Groome Transportation is far from unprecedented. Over the past ten years Tech has signed contracts with four different companies and each time experienced Tech drivers who already know the routes and students were always re-hired. Groome decided to hire only half of the drivers that it takes to fully staff our bus services, which explains the poorer service as of late, and offers Tech the opportunity to mandate that Groome rehire at least 20 experienced drivers.
The Tech administration claims to have no influence over whether these 40 drivers get their jobs back and yet they write the checks and retain the power to fire any contracted worker. Furthermore, Tech retains the right to cancel the transit contract with Groome with 30 days notice. The administration’s claim of independence from the labor dispute isn’t credible. Tech’s relationship with Groome is an intimate one. Neither Groome transportation, nor the Tech administration, nor President Peterson have agreed to meet with drivers union to negotiate a fair settlement. The Tech administration is as culpable as Groome in union busting and attacking workers’ rights.
As students we depend on quality public transportation. Unions in the U. S. and around the world have helped millions collectively bargain for better wages, benefits, and safer working conditions. A living wage, benefits and job security provides for healthier more productive workers that are better able to get us where we need to go. Replacing workers on the basis of their participation in a union is unethical and a violation of federal labor law. The drivers’ union is currently filing national labor relations act violations against Groome Transportation. We, as students, have an obligation to support union drivers not only because it’s a better deal for the Tech community but because it also improves the job quality for workers and service for students. As an educational institution in Atlanta we also have an obligation to provide reliable and fair jobs to our campus employees.
Many students at Tech feel that as an elite institution of science and technology we are somehow independent from social injustice in the community. This idea is ridiculous. Top ranked University of California Berkley and MIT have active progressive student movements allied with workers. The “economic crisis” is being used as the pretense for egregious attacks on worker and student rights. Because of mistakes made by the ruling class students are paying fee hikes and workers are having their unions busted. The political and economic system is re-enforcing the message that no one could have predicted market failure and we all must bear the burden. Students and workers are not to blame of the economic crisis; the corrupt system of the ruling class is.
With Martin Luther King Day approaching it is worth reflecting on one of his great unfinished projects: to unionize the South. As students have an obligation to support those who selflessly provide us indispensable services daily. They are people that deserve the same rights we expect for ourselves. Let’s bridge the gap between workers and students in light of this struggle, and demonstrate to administrators that the rights for workers are in our interest as well. Workers rights are human rights! Demand Tech rehire all 40 union drivers!