NEW HAVEN, Conn. – School bus drivers at First Student voted overwhelmingly for union representation in a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election April 12. Choosing union by a margin of 119-36, the workers, Latina and mostly African-American women, excitedly declared victory.

The company, however, immediately challenged the election by filing an objection with the NLRB.

“The company fought them ever since we got an election date. They are still fighting to keep them from having their union,” said Connecticut State Employees Association/Service Employees International Union (CSEA/SEIU) Local 760 organizer Eda DiBiccari, who worked on the campaign with Mark Lunt and Arturo Grifiths from the International SEIU.

From the time a group of workers contacted the union in December, a strong committee signed up their fellow drivers so quickly and quietly that they took the company by surprise.

The company, the second largest school bus company in the country, had angered the workers when they took away holidays in favor of a bonus.

However, to earn the bonus a worker could not miss even one day of work, and could not have any accident record, even if they were not at fault. The company made other promises that were never fulfilled.

“It’s amazing how after months of ignoring and disrespecting us, First Student began making all kinds of promises when they found out about our desire for a union,” said Felix Marquez.

He emphasized that they were not taken in by this tactic. “We’ve been down the road of broken promises with them before.”

The workers voted for the union because “we all recognize that only with a union contract do we have any guarantees,” added Kenja Arnold.

In support of the workers, a majority of members of the New Haven Board of Aldermen signed a letter to First Student calling on them to allow the workers to make a decision free of harassment or intimidation.

“Here in New Haven we have a long tradition of labor organizing,” said the 22 Aldermen. “We expect workers rights to be protected and their free decisions to be respected.”

Since 1996, CSEA/SEIU 760 has organized 1,000 school bus drivers in Connecticut. The workers at First Student are now awaiting an NLRB investigation that will either uphold or set aside the election.

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

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