USW International legal defense for School Bus Union 5

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

Since the first day of the union-busting attack by global imperialist conglomerate Veolia and the city of Boston against the leaders of Steelworkers Local 8751, the USW International has been committed to providing the highest priority legal defense. They assembled a formidable team of lawyers from their Boston firm, while the Office of the General Counsel of the USW, headquartered in Pittsburgh, has had direct and daily involvement.

Led by a talented and passionate young lawyer, Al Gordon O’Connell, the legal team has produced hundreds of pages of briefs, rebuttals, affidavits and witness statements, and collected a huge volume of print, video and photographic evidence to mount the most thorough defense of the five leaders from Veolia’s bogus and vile frame-up. Known as the School Bus Union 5, the leaders are Andre Francois, Steve Gillis, Stevan Kirschbaum, Richard Lynch and Garry Murchison.

Most importantly, the legal team has followed the political direction of the five leaders and their rank-and-file committee, the Committee to Defend the School Bus Union 5. This is an extraordinary attack by Veolia, Mayor Thomas Menino, Boston Public Schools and the entire Boston political establishment, backed by the mainstream media. The Five and their team have declared that their defense/offense must reflect their rank-and-file, workers’ power approach in the legal arena.

A Native American adage says that separated the five fingers of an open hand can be cut off, but united in a clenched fist they are strong and powerful. Taking that inspiration, the Five have mounted a united defense.

Veolia sought to charge, investigate and hold trials on the five leaders separately, in different locations and at different times. The Five and their legal team declared that all procedures in their cases would be handled as one; that briefs, rebuttals and hearings would be held at one central location; and that the Five would present their case as one.

This strategy has also proven indispensable in organizing hundreds of rank-and-file USW members and supporters for mass defense at hearings on Oct. 23, Oct. 28 and Oct. 31. Rank-and-file drivers brought a workers’ power component to the legal defense by descending on the hearings in the hundreds to occupy Veolia’s corporate offices. They made their voices heard through speeches, chanting and drumming from a makeshift pickup truck stage.

Just 10 days after the leaders’ suspensions, the workers initiated an effective shutdown of Veolia operations on Oct. 19, at the scene of the company’s fraudulent seniority rebid. This was despite a crude letter from General Manager Alex Roman, handed to every driver the night before, threatening against the drivers’ participation in the union action.

Even in the usually sanitized and isolated legal forum, the workers’ solidarity with their leaders is primary. Instead of presenting a “modest sample” of witnesses in support of the Five, attorney Gordon attached mass affidavit petitions to his rebuttal, with more than 500 names of drivers willing to testify in the Five’s defense. The company was only able to get one person to give an affidavit; he has since recanted his statement and submitted one in defense of the Five.

Veolia perpetrates phony, sloppy case

As per the union contract, Veolia was compelled to conduct a full, fair and impartial investigation prior to imposing discipline. They failed miserably. Their out-of-state lawyers, who are not licensed to practice in Massachusetts, attempted to coerce false statements from drivers and supervisors. The dismal few they obtained and included were a farce, including statements written in their own hand, some not reviewed by witnesses, false and contradictory statements, and irrelevant statements reflecting anti-union hatred, but nothing even remotely having to do with the charges against the Five. The company was also caught attempting to withhold statements collected from their own supervisors that exonerate the Five from the charges!

A union legal brief notes that “Veolia’s decision to include video of [Grievance Chair Stevan] Kirschbaum speaking in New York in February of this year [at an Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181 school bus workers strike] shows that Veolia is targeting Kirschbaum, [Vice President Steve] Gillis, [Recording Secretary Andre] Francois, [Steward Garry] Murchison and [Steward Richard] Lynch based upon their previous participation in protected concerted activity.” Local 8751 has made clear that the union won’t let Veolia criminalize solidarity.

In a statement to the Five read at a Nov. 1 emergency meeting held in Roxbury’s historic Hibernian Hall, Gordon states: “My office and the Steelworkers’ legal office in Pittsburgh are making a broad-based legal attack on [the terminations of Gillis and Kirschbaum]. … Even before the grievance process begins, I plan to put the company on notice by letter that its so-called ‘investigation’ failed to meet even the most basic standards of due process.”

Gordon continued: “We intend to demand a meeting with company officials … to discuss the deficiencies in the investigation and demand that a full and fair investigation be conducted. We are prepared to immediately launch the grievance process and to bring this matter to arbitration. … In addition, on [Nov. 4], I will be working with the Steelworkers legal office in Pittsburgh to file unfair labor practice charges against the company to overturn your termination and will be requesting that the [National Labor Relations Board] seek injunctive relief on your behalf.”

The Five and the rank-and-file drivers are heartened by the tireless work being done by the lawyers. They are also ultimately relying on the one true and sure defense — the power of their awakened and militantly active rank and file in unity with labor and the community!