Boston protest demands: ‘Reinstate our fired leaders!’

Garry Murchison, Steve Kirschbaum, Andre Francois, Steve Gillis

Garry Murchison, Steve Kirschbaum, Andre Francois, Steve Gillis

Boston school bus drivers held a militant picket line June 18 outside the headquarters of the notorious Veolia Corporation, which has renamed itself Transdev. “Reinstate our fired leaders now!” was the main demand. The drivers’ union, Steelworkers Local 8751, has been fighting since October 2013 to get four fired leaders — President Andre Francois, Vice President Steve Kirschbaum, Financial Secretary Steve Gillis and Grievance Chair Garry Murchison — rehired.

Veolia, which the city of Boston hired in June 2013 to manage public school transportation, fired the four over completely trumped-up charges of leading an illegal wildcat strike. In fact, Veolia illegally locked out more than 850 drivers after they attempted to meet with management over unresolved grievances, including the company’s demand that workers — many with 20, 30 and even 40 years of service to Boston’s school children — reapply for their jobs.

This June workers let the company know that routine contract violations must stop. For example, every year as the school year comes to an end, management is supposed to work with the union to set up the “summer bid.” Workers bid on jobs that are available during the summer; jobs are awarded based on seniority.

Instead of providing the union with information on the jobs that would be available this year, Veolia arbitrarily, without consulting the union, designated June 13 as the date for the bid. When the union objected and threatened a job action, the date was moved to June 20.

Workers were prepared to shut down the bidding process by refusing to sign up for any available job. Now the bid is June 27, two days before summer school begins.

In this way, without even having to go on strike, workers demonstrated their power to obstruct business as usual.

Union members are also demanding the company settle almost 700 unresolved grievances and a number of unfair labor practice charges, as well as offer a just settlement to the contract, which expired in 2014.

“We want justice now,” 8751 members chanted on June 18. “If we don’t get it, we’ll shut it down!” President Francois warned: “This is just the beginning, Alex Roman,” referring to Veolia’s general manager.

School bus drivers’ union members were joined by labor and community supporters, including UNITE HERE Local 26; Service Employees 1199; Charles Clemons, general manager of TOUCH 106.1 and USW 8751-endorsed candidate for District 7 Boston City Council; and Jean Claude Sanon, endorsed candidate for City Council. Also present were Sandra McIntosh, coordinator of the Coalition for Equal Quality Education; Workers World Party; Nkume Bojah Brock, from Mass Action Against Police Brutality; Nick Giannone III, of the Boilermakers Union and the Communist Party USA Boston; Boston International Workers of the World; and the Student Labor Action Movement.

Resolutions of solidarity have been sent to the union from United Auto Workers Local 2322 in New England and the Jeep unit of UAW Local 12 in Toledo, Ohio.