Haitian leader of USW 8751 defends fired union brothers

The following letter is a rebuttal to an Oct. 9 public attack against the Boston School Bus Drivers Union, Steelworkers 8751 by Marie St-Fleur, an aide to lame duck Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and a former Massachusetts State Representative. Andre Francois is Local 8751 recording secretary and one of the School Bus Union 5, suspended by union-busting corporation Veolia.    

To Marie St-Fleur:

Boston School Bus Drivers Union 5: Garry Murchison, Stevan Kirschbaum, Andre Francois, Steven Gillis and Richard Lynch.Photo: Fred Floreal

Boston School Bus Drivers Union 5: Garry Murchison, Stevan Kirschbaum, Andre Francois, Steven Gillis and Richard Lynch.
Photo: Fred Floreal

Please be advised that you owe us, the Haitians [Boston Public Schools] bus drivers and monitors, an apology for the disrespect and the attacks on our leaders on national TV and in the newspapers. Let me first define your blatant disrespect: your message to us, spoken in English and in Haitian Creole, suggests that we don’t speak or understand English and as far as your racist remarks and ill-advised attack on both of our leaders Steve Kirschbaum and Steve Gillis, I want you and the rest of the right-wing bigots to know that these two guys who happen to be white — which you referenced in your message — have done far more for the Haitian community than you, the Mayor, and the governor put together.

Steve Kirschbaum had opened the door for over 700 of us to be able to have a very decent job in the city by being one of the founders of the local union and kept the door open until today [SK was fired by Veolia on Nov. 1 — WW] with a great amount of leadership, while driving children safely to and from schools for four decades.

Steve Gillis has been, since 1985, the catalyst for the local union membership, a gifted leader, a great school bus driver, and a steward who has been making sure on a daily basis that our rights to our benefits are not violated. [Gillis was also fired on Nov. 1— WW]

Both Steves have been union labor organizers, activists, and community leaders, which means, besides us school bus drivers, they’re meeting and helping Haitians in every walk of their lives. For instance, they just got done organizing the school bus drivers for Eastern Company, which covers about four Massachusetts cities and towns, where the majority of the workforce is Haitian. We love them so much. Every election they’ve always voted in with 90 to 95 percent.

This apology is a long overdue one.  Do not tarry to do it.  You need to repair that bridge rapidly and plug up the rupture for you have been a thorn in our sides for too long.  We can say that, ever since you were in your financial jam where you had to sell your soul to the city’s politics in exchange to come out of it.

If you suffer with amnesia, I can remind you of every single time you hurt us. Please recognize this — apart from the taxi drivers association that has more Haitians, which by the way are also steelworkers, and some weekend taxi drivers who are also weekday school bus drivers — we are the second biggest group of Haitians in one close knit community, so any planned campaign to respond to your disrespect can be huge.  Keep that in mind.

If you can’t do that, stay out of our business and hands off our leaders. Since you did not ask any questions before you opened your mouth, let me tell you what happened. In spite of all Veolia’s violations of our contract — which could not be resolved in the grievance process due to this company’s complete disregard — whereby we had to file a set of Unfair Labor Practices charges at the National Labor Relations Board. And as the federal government was shut down at the time, on Monday, October 7, 2013, Veolia began to redistribute a new hire application to the drivers with threats of termination if not completed by a certain date, an application which was rejected in its entirety during transition meetings by the union in writing and signed by the company; and secondly the company fired a well-respected manager who two days prior they tried to fire senselessly and prevented by the union; thus brought the rank-and-file frustrations where they said enough is enough and demanded a meeting with the company on Oct. 8, 2013.

Veolia knew that their provocation was real. They then had already placed their high-ranking Veolia school department officials on site and police officers nearby the Readville and the Freeport bus yards to carry out their union-busting plan. Instead of agreeing to a meeting, they refused. They called for more police, ordered workers to remove their vehicles from the premises, and proceeded to lock their gates. What they did was an illegal lockout, for we were all checked in ready to go to work upon agreeing to a meeting. According to the law, that was a legal and protected union activity. So the two Steves among other leaders like me were leading a concerted and protected union activity.

Andre Francois

Nov. 1, 2013