NEW HAVEN, Conn. – When a group of angry school bus drivers marched into the management office at First Student School Bus Company on February 27, the supervisors were shocked. The workers, accompanied by representatives of Connecticut Service Employees Association/Service Employees International Union (CSEA/SEIU) Local 760, demanded that First Student, the second largest school bus company in the nation, recognize the union. The immediate response was “No.”

The workers, not willing to take “no” for an answer, immediately filed papers with the National Labor Relations Board asking for an election. On April 12 a union election will be held.

The First Student workers, predominantly Latino and African American and many women, began organizing last December because they were fed up with bad working conditions. The company refused to provide any time off for sick leave. Anyone too sick to come to work doesn’t get paid at all.

One of the workers complained about this policy because she had a bad cold and was bed-ridden for a few days. She was worried that if she did go to work while sick, not only could her condition get worse, but she might spread her illness to the many children who ride her bus every day. Most First Student workers have no health insurance and cannot afford the high cost of the health care plan offered by the company.

According to SEIU organizers, the company does not offer any holiday pay to the workers.

The workers were also unhappy that First Student does not go according to seniority in assigning work loads and promoting workers within the firm. Some workers get preferential treatment with assignments for extra school trips. This favoritism leads to unfair practices.

There is great enthusiasm for next week’s election. If a majority of workers vote “yes” for the union, then they will have the opportunity to negotiate a contract with the company to improve working conditions. Organizing workers takes time, but many have signed up quickly and are confident that the union will win.

The company’s response has been an anti-union campaign. They have tried to create confusion with leaflets and letters attacking the motives of SEIU. They have called workers to “captive audience” meetings with more attempts to scare the workers and discredit the union. The company’s strategy is to tell workers that if they do vote the union in, management will refuse to negotiate a contract.

Despite the difficulties ahead, the workers are determined to win justice in their workplace.

The author can be reached at joelle.fishman@pobox.com

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