Veolia Corporation is the problem, not the bus drivers’ union

The Coalition for Equal Quality Education, based in Boston, issued the following statement on Nov. 2.  The CEQE, in collaboration with the Black Educators’ Alliance of Massachusetts, has been in the forefront of organizing community participation against the resegregation of Boston schools, in the interests of the parents, students, teachers and labor.  Go to the Facebook page of CEQE at http://tinyurl.com/nyvp3uj for more information.  

A great deal of misinformation has been spread about the recent conflict between the Veolia corporation and the school bus drivers union in Boston, which this letter seeks to clarify.

What actually happened

Since Veolia took over management of school bus transportation in July, there have been hundreds of violations of workers’ rights guaranteed under the contract — a contract that Veolia had previously agreed to honor. These violations include unfair wage shortages, withholding of benefits, constant route changes that created chaos, overcrowding on buses endangering student safety and causing lateness, among dozens of other management-created issues. The company has refused to take any of the workers’ concerns seriously and has ignored their repeated requests to address these violations.

On October 8th, when the drivers arrived at the bus yard, they discovered that a fair-minded manager (not even a union member) had been fired for the second time in a week; worker protests had succeeded in getting her reinstated the first time she was fired. Combined with all the outstanding labor violations that had been ignored by management, this was the last straw.  They requested a meeting with management to discuss their concerns, which is a legal job action, but Veolia management refused to meet with the workers.

Even after the longest term city councilor, Charles Yancey, came out to help initiate this dialogue in order to avoid a disruption of bus service for families, Veolia management refused to meet. Instead, Veolia called the police and physically removed the distinguished councilor from the premises; then proceeded to force the workers out of the yard or face arrest, and locked the gates, preventing them from being able to drive students to school.

So no “wildcat” strike occurred; instead, it was an illegal company lockout that created chaos for parents and students on the day that the union and its leaders were vilified by the mayor and the media for something they did not do. No strike occurred that day; a simple request for a dialogue with management was made spontaneously by the rank-and-file workers. Nor were the workers led astray by “a rogue element of trouble makers” among the union leadership, since they arrived in the yard after the the rank and file had already begun the job action by asking for the meeting.

Who is the Veolia Corporation?

The Veolia company is a huge, global multinational corporation based in France with a longstanding record of union-busting and environmental devastation across the world. Veolia is currently engaged in an effort to gain control over the water supply in a number of countries, by privatizing water so that they can make enormous profits off of what should be a free, government protected basic human right.

Due to their disregard for the needs of communities, the environment and workers, Veolia has been driven out of a number of regions in the U.S. by coalitions of community, labor and civic associations. The reason Veolia is in Boston is to take one more step toward gaining control over all such bussing contracts in as many regions as they can enter.  They have no concern whatsoever for the communities of Boston, for the parents, students, teachers, school administrators — or the bus drivers. The question is: Is Veolia good for the people of Boston?

Who is the bus drivers union?

The school bus drivers union was founded 36 years ago and has a history of successfully fighting for the rights of its workers and for the rights of many groups in greatest need in Boston and beyond. The bus drivers union is one of the most democratic unions in the history of the country, in which the rank and file are involved in everything the union undertakes, and in which an injury to one is an injury to all.

The “rogue element” within the leadership of the union as referred to by the mayor, are those who have always put the needs and crises of others before their own personal interests, and have offered effective support in their struggles to survive and thrive; whether it is the rights of parents to have a decent education for their children; or the needs of the Haitian community here and abroad; or the rights of other workers to union protection, among countless other acts of courage and solidarity.

These are the leaders who have been fired as a first step in attempting to crush the union. It is for their indefatigable support to those who are most hard-pressed that they have earned the antagonism of those in power. It is this history of progressive activism for social, economic and racial justice that has won them the respect of people across the city, the country and abroad. This is a union that will not go down easy; they will fight to win this confrontation with an inhumane corporate giant, and because they have supported so many others, they will garner the support they need in return.

What is at stake for all of us in this struggle?

This struggle between Veolia, the global corporate giant and their political allies, and the school bus drivers union is symbolic of the struggle we all face today. As the vast majority of us who are fortunate enough to have jobs go to work every day, we are faced with increasing numbers of arbitrary firings — of fear of losing our jobs — which in turn silences and demoralizes us. We are faced with wage and salary cuts, loss of benefits, overwork, stress and exhaustion.

We see our taxes rising while the quality of life in our communities deteriorates given a lack of affordable housing, poor quality education that does not speak to our needs and aspirations, a health care system in chaos, few meaningful jobs, a democracy that votes fine people into office who are then trapped by the very corporate system that is bent on destroying the bus drivers union.

If we, the larger community, allow Veolia and its political allies to crush the bus drivers union — which has always been a beacon for the good of the whole community — then what will happen to the rest of us when our time comes, when we need the support and solidarity of our fellow workers and community? This struggle will set the terms and tone for what our city and society will look like in the days to come. Let us come together and create a basis for hope rather than despair. Every single person is needed. The time is now. Join us.