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News :: Labor
Schoolbus drivers fight back against attacks
06 Jan 2005
Boston's unionized school-bus drivers and monitors are fighting back in the face of a series of vicious racist and anti-union attacks by the mayor, the City Council majority and Boston's leading tabloid. These unionists, members of United Steel workers of America Local 8751, are working with Black leaders, the community and the Boston labor movement in a fightback campaign. The struggle focuses on the issue of installing Global Positioning System (GPS) devices on the buses. But behind the attacks are efforts to undermine school desegregation and break up this multinational union, which has been in the forefront of anti-racist and other progressive struggles in the city.
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Schoolbus drivers fight back against attack

By Bryan G. Pfeifer

BOSTON -- Boston's unionized school-bus drivers and monitors are fighting back in the face of a series of vicious racist and anti-union attacks by the mayor, the City Council majority and Boston's leading tabloid. These unionists, members of United Steel workers of America Local 8751, are working with Black leaders, the community and the Boston labor movement in a fightback campaign.

The struggle focuses on the issue of installing Global Positioning System (GPS) devices on the buses. But behind the attacks are efforts to undermine school desegregation and break up this multinational union, which has been in the forefront of anti-racist and other progressive struggles in the city.

The anti-union campaign began in early November, only days after an Oct. 28 meeting at which the union rank and file accepted a contract for which they had fought for over a year. Drivers consider the new contract a huge victory. It includes increased wages and a first-ever 100-percent-paid dental and vision plan.

The contract also excludes onerous concessions like using Global Positioning Systems on the buses. GPS is a spying technology demanded originally by the employer, First Student Inc. Headquartered in the United Kingdom, First Student is the second-largest U.S. private bus corporation and the wealthiest.

Developed in the 1970s by the U.S. military for exclusive military technology, GPS relies on a cluster of 24 satellites orbiting 12,500 miles above Earth. The satellites emit coded signals, which a ground-based receiver can pick up to triangulate its own position. This new technology is part of the profound shift of the civilian industry toward the military-industrial complex. The leading GPS corporation today is Trimble (publicly-traded), begun in 1978 by Charles Trimble and two other founders from Hewlett Packard.

Trimble, through its own and various company acquisitions, leads the rapid development of commercial, consumer and military applications and uses of GPS. Trimble sells its GPS products for all size vehicle fleets from public safety (fire, police and ambulance) to buses, public works and commercial vehicles.

“Trimble technology increases driver and cargo security; improves workforce productivity; and enhances management reporting and tools. By integrating wireless, GPS and information technologies, Trimble not only provides location information, but also enables the data to be quickly communicated from the field, or fleet, to the dispatch office or other point of need, via radio, cellular, and/or Internet media.” (www.trimble.com).

The GPS, electronic medical records and hospital information systems are just a few of capital’s 21st century weapons in its vast arsenal of computerization and telecommunications to restructure and take increasing control over work processes which result in speed ups, leaner production and a break down in worker solidarity.

Drivers expose GPS 'safety' issue

City Councilor John M. Tobin Jr. proposed a law requiring the school buses to be fitted with the spy devices at a Nov. 8 City Council education committee hearing. Tobin's GPS proposal was first announced that same morning in the press. There had been no prior notice to the union.

Tobin has a reputation of being anti-union, and supports a "Neighbor hood Walk to Schools Campaign," a campaign to reinstate racial segregation in the schools. Bolstered by this backing from its government agent, the company announced it was ready to renege on the contract and put GPS devices on the city's 720 school buses.

The GPS plan is calculated to show that school bus drivers who deliver the students from home to school and back are somehow placing them in harm's way. First Student first proposed GPS in collective bargaining as a wage-cutting and disciplinary tool. Now it is falsely trying to portray its use as a safety issue.

To force the use of GPS, the city would have to abrogate the contract between First Student and USWA Local 8751.

School-bus drivers organized carpools downtown during their lunch break to attend the hearing, and a heated exchange took place.

Tobin and other GPS supporters on the council claimed safety was the main reason for the GPS devices. Local 8751 leaders and members disagreed.

Union President Steve Gillis charged: "You are trying to champion safety by imposing spy devices over real safety devices, including more human monitors and safety personnel, updating the two-way radio system and the aging bus fleet. These GPS devices are anti-labor and have nothing to do with safety."

Tobin gaveled and shouted down driver after driver, using insults and prosecutor tactics. He even turned off the microphone on the union's Black grievance officer after another white councilor ran across the room to verbally and physically assault the union speaker.

Days after this hearing, as the city's tabloid press and anti-busers on the council like James Kelly vilified the drivers as "thugs" and a "nest of scoundrels," the City Council Nov. 17 voted 9-4 to reject funding for First Student's new contract agreement with Local 8751, and sent the matter to the Ways and Means Committee.

Kelly, claim many USWA members, had made his political career in the 1970s and 1980s lead ing violent mobs of bigots who attacked children of color on buses bringing them into his predominantly white district.

The union denounced the City Council's action as an attempt to work hand-in-glove with others in the city administration and First Student to implement the GPS and other concessions unilaterally, thus illegally circumventing the collective bargaining process.

African American City Council member Chuck Turner, a staunch supporter of Local 8751, criticized the City Council vote. "While many of the councilors tried to deny they're using the contract issue to punish the union for other activities," he said, "the discussion on the council floor betrayed their argument. Frankly, this is absurd. It's differential treatment. I have never heard of the council having questions over terms of a contract." (www.boston.com)

Union president Gillis denounced the council vote to over 150 drivers and reporters at a news conference Nov. 18 in the Charlestown bus yard: "The Boston School Bus Drivers' Union, whose members are parents and grandparents of Boston children from the Haitian, Cape Verdean, Puerto Rican, African-Amer ican, Vietnamese and working class white communities, views the City Council vote as not only an attack on our meager standard of living and our union, but as a racist affront to the civil rights movement, whose task and goals of equal, quality education we proudly carry out each day."

Union's anti-racist history

Gillis claims these most recent attacks are political payback for the union's militant, anti-racist history since its founding in 1978. He charged that the union is being punished for its contributions to the 32-member coalition Boston Unions United for Fair Contracts; its role in the July 25, 2004, coalition to protest the Democratic National Convention held in Boston; building the New England Committee for the Million Worker March; being a leading member of the New England Human Rights Coalition for Haiti, and its anti-war work in Boston Labor's ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism).

Especially egregious in the eyes of Tobin and other anti-busers was the union's active role in the community/parent organization "Work 4 Quality! Fight 4 Equity!" which this year organized thousands of parents in opposition to the city establishment's re-segregation proposals.

Recently, a city-wide Safety Summit was projected among African-American and other community leaders and elected officials of color. Summit organizers invited Local 8751 to help plan the event for early next year. One of the demands is for real safety devices, like human monitors on the buses to help with childcare, and not GPS spyware. This is recognition that many view the city's anti-union campaign as an attack on the Black community.

On Dec. 7, another act of solidarity took place when the Greater Boston Labor Council (GBLC), representing over 100 affiliates and 90,000 union members in the Greater Boston area, unanimously passed a resolution supporting the union.

After denouncing the GPS as a spy device, the resolution concluded, "[The GBLC] opposes this anti-union attempt by city elected officials to tear up the Boston school bus drivers new contract with First Student Inc. and will utilize every resource at our disposal to defend the sanctity of the Steelworkers private collective bargaining agreement and stop the unilateral imposition after the fact of anti-labor concessions on these fine union sisters and brothers who have served well the parents and children of Boston and the cause of equal, quality, desegregated education for over 30 years."

Union movement confronts slanderous media campaign

Beginning Dec. 6, the Boston Herald--seen by many as a racist, anti-labor daily tabloid--continued the attacks with a well-timed media campaign in concert with the mayor's office and others, to vilify and demonize Local 8751. The union is 90-percent workers of color, of whom approximately 85 percent are Haitian. The Herald's front page showed a picture of a bus driver apparently sleeping in his bus, and alleged that six drivers were doing the same.

What the Herald deliberately failed to report was that these buses were on emergency standby for 12 hours daily and that the drivers were on breaks.

The Herald continued this slanderous coverage throughout the week. It quoted Mayor Thomas Menino's threats Dec. 7: "We are going to do it [install GPS] administratively. It's a safety issue and also it's a productivity issue."

On Boston Channel 5, as part of the city's attack campaign, Menino, also president of the United States Conference of Mayors, claimed without any proof, "The only people who don't want to do it [install the GPS] is the leadership of the union."

Not so!

On Dec. 9, the GBLC demonstrated its solidarity by sending a high-level labor delegation to a news conference at City Hall chaired by David Ebony Barkley of Boston's Alliance of Black Trade Unionists. The unionists marched in to deliver the resolution to city councilors and the mayor.

Upon entering City Hall the delegation--including GBLC Executive Secre tary- Treasurer Richard M. Rogers, AFL-CIO regional representative Sandy Felder, and representatives from AFSCME, SEIU, IBEW, UFCW, Steelworkers, the Women's Fightback Network, and the International Action Center--was immediately surrounded by police and security agents, who threatened arrests for lobbying and leafleting.

After a tense standoff and negotiations, USWA Local 8751 vice president Frantz Mendes and Northeast regional AFL-CIO representative Sandy Felder proceeded to deliver the resolutions.

Following the confrontation with the cops, Mendes spoke out. "The reason they want to install GPS is not for safety. It's to cut wages and to instill disciplinary action."

Mendes was joined by Stevan Kirsch baum, Local 8751's chief steward, who charged the City Council with union-busting. "We're watching you and we're going to take action," asserted Kirsch baum.

It is clear that USWA Local 8751 and its allies aren't intimidated.

Union supporters can register their feelings by calling Mayor Menino at (617) 635-4500; fax (617) 635-3496 or email: Mayor (at) ci.boston.ma.us.

See www.bostonschoolbusunion.org for updates and information.

-- END --
See also:
http://www.bostonschoolbusunion.org
http://www.iacboston.org

This work is in the public domain.
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Re: Schoolbus drivers fight back against attacks
07 Jan 2005
Everyone should be aware that the IAC, which is the same group as ANSWER has nothing to do with this union and their struggle. Check out the school bus union's site for information on union activity. Check out IAC's site for information on authoritarian communism, the saddam huessien defense commity, and other wacko ideas.
Re: Schoolbus drivers fight back against attacks
10 Jan 2005
Another example of the Stalinist goons from ANSWER butting in where they have no business. And as for GPS, it's a way to make sure that the drivers are where they are supposed to be. Of course, that doesn't fit into the author's agenda of injecting race into everything. Please dump the agenda - no one cares anymore.
Re: Schoolbus drivers fight back against attacks
11 Jan 2005
Shouldn't anti-war organizations join the fight for workers' rights?

Hooray for the IAC!
Re: Schoolbus drivers fight back against attacks
12 Jan 2005
Isn't this the same mayor that was protested against by DNC workers?
Re: Schoolbus drivers fight back against attacks
16 Jan 2005
Re: Schoolbus drivers fight back against attacks
by Keith
(No verified email address) 07 Jan 2005
Everyone should be aware that the IAC, which is the same group as ANSWER has nothing to do with this union and their struggle. Check out the school bus union's site for information on union activity. Check out IAC's site for information on authoritarian communism, the saddam huessien defense commity, and other wacko ideas.


Response: The Boston school bus driver's union has a friendly relationship with ANSWER/IAC - Boston, I can assure you. Why? For the reason that the union more than likely understands how much strength is provided to the union by a militant union leadership with ties to ANSWER/IAC and Workers World Party-USA.

The IAC is separate from ANSWER, as it functions as a clearinghouse, and ANSWER is a broad based coalition that has a right to be involved in the struggle of the Boston School bus drivers, however; not to the point where political domination and sectarianism are promoted via controlling the platform at mass events, which it seems no one is innocent of in the US movement for social, economic and political justice.

while it is not the time to promote sectarianism and petty political infighting in this struggle, but to instead support the bus drivers struggle, to be honest, problems do arise when debate and discussion is stifled at meetings when ANSWER begins to reflect Workers World, which i've experienced on a question of debate. instead of encouraging discussion often the case is to shut it down, which was my own experience. a nice group of people, but the Party line wasn't for me, which i found out recently.

pss
feel free to email me concerning my response as i'm not shirking my responsibility to support my post.
Re: Schoolbus drivers fight back against attacks
16 Jan 2005
"Another example of the Stalinist goons from ANSWER butting in where they have no business. And as for GPS, it's a way to make sure that the drivers are where they are supposed to be. Of course, that doesn't fit into the author's agenda of injecting race into everything. Please dump the agenda - no one cares anymore. "

Response: This story was also published in the Boston Globe and debated on the Boston radio airwaves not only in Workers World newspaper, so a news story from WW newspaper at least provides an editorial comment that is in favor of the bus drivers, whereas; the Boston Globe plays the middle too often in my opinion in their editorial section.

The GPS is an invastion of privacy used by management to infringe upon the rights of workers, not for safety or clocking, moreover; the city is using it as a tool to circumvent the collective bargaining process, which management will always try to do.

i'm very pro-union and support the Boston school bus drivers as well as other unions fighting back against managment.
the Million Worker March was a breathe of fresh air in spite of the low turn out, as it laid the foundation for a labor movement built on workers' demands separate from what either the Democratic or Republican Parties were offering to workers, moreover; it offers a trade union leadership of oppressed nationalities reaching out to union and non-union members.
http://www.millionworkermarch.org
seth
Re: Schoolbus drivers fight back against attacks
16 Jan 2005
on the question of debating a issue within a Marxist-Leninist Party, i will close by stating that many groupings won't touch the issue i disagreed with WWP on, which was abortion.

being pro-life made me resign from WWP for the reason that WWP is in favor of abortion. i wouldn't have been able to change the stand in the Party, so i turned to Feminists for Life, who spoke at a Christian Fellowship dinner, which has a web site at http://www.feministsforlife.org/