Boston school bus union leaders return to work

For 26 months beginning October 2013, when they were falsely accused of staging an illegal walkout, four fired leaders of the Boston School Bus Drivers Union waged an uphill battle against the notorious Veolia/Transdev Corp. to get their jobs back. It took the full mobilization of the militant rank and file, combined with a rock-solid support coalition that united longtime labor leaders with veteran African-American community activists Chuck Turner and Mel King, to win their reinstatement on Dec. 23.

United Steelworkers Local 8751 members were beyond jubilant when President Andre François, Vice President Steve Kirschbaum, Financial Secretary Steve Gillis and Grievance Chair Garry Murchison returned to the bus yards Jan. 5 after the winter holiday break.

François and Local 8751 Guide Chantal S. Casimir — who works in the Reidville yard, where Kirschbaum worked before being fired — described their triumphant return and the struggles that have followed. Right now, a big fight is to get the company to pay the millions of dollars it owes the 900-plus drivers in retroactive pay increases, going back to when the old contract expired in 2014. On Jan. 15 the workers rallied to demand their retro pay.

Workers World: How was it, finally going back to work?

François: It was electric. Everybody was shaking your hand and hugging you and saying they’re happy about it. Each of us went to a particular yard. I went to the one, Charlestown, where I always worked, where the whole yard voted for me except for one person. It was somewhat surreal. The fact that it was a long time coming, you are asking yourself, “Is that for real?” that you are back to start getting a paycheck. You feel relieved with a lot off your shoulders.

You are looking forward to thanking your supporters that were there with you. You are eager to get back at the job and start doing things. The fight is not over, because you are going to face the boss, who is going to renege before the ink is dry. Today [Jan. 13] we had a bunch of conditions we had to fight.

WW: What was it like when Steve Kirschbaum came back to work?

Casimir: Oh my gosh, it was great. Everybody was really excited to see him. When he came to have a meeting with us we couldn’t wait to see him. Everybody was dying to see Steve come back.

It was a great victory, especially for me, because I know they were illegally fired. There were times I had to stay away because it would upset me so bad I couldn’t sleep. It was just in my mind so much knowing they didn’t do anything, but they got fired. And they got fired for who? For me and all the other drivers. When they came up with the final offer with the contract, the only thing everybody was thinking of was: When are the four coming back? Since they came back we have hope. It’s going to take time but everything will fall into place again.

WW: How is it now at work?

François: I feel that there is so much to do. We are in the yards just about every day. I go to all four yards. We have an issue lately, it is the retro check. A lot of people are glad we are back but every time they see us they ask us, “When are we going to get our retro?” The company is doing a job to get the members mad at us.

They [Transdev] want to bring their own agenda that they never sat down with us to discuss — not in negotiations, not any other time. They want to implement things without talking with us. Before [under the previous union administration] these committees were in the contract, but they were not functioning. Now we told them they are going to meet — accident review committee, civil rights, safety — but they don’t want to do any of that stuff. They turn their heads. And they are mad they had to swallow their pride and bring us back.

The accident review committee, we are going to get that going. They go crazy firing people for minor dents. Incidents are being called preventable accidents. That is because we didn’t have the ARC going.

We are going to make sure that they don’t set us up again. They act real nasty and they try to divide us. I had to tell them, “I feel in your mind you haven’t brought us back, but you have to get it in your mind, we are back.” We are equals. We are, all four of us, ready for it.

Casimir: It is still a lot going on right now even though the guys are back. They are still fighting with the company for a lot of other things. But right now we feel the hope because they are back. There are lots of things the company used to do to us, but now they are not doing those things.

WW: Describe the mood of the membership.

Casimir: How do I describe it? I can’t speak for everybody but the majority is happy and they are still united. The majority of drivers that I spoke to, they feel a big relief. I can say it’s around 90 percent united.

François: Oh it’s just great. They are 97 to 98 percent united. The mood couldn’t be any better.

We’re just taking it day by day and the struggle continues.

WW: What else would you add?

Casimir: What I would add is that I would thank Workers World. We would not have won without you guys. Because of the four guys [the fired leaders] and your support we have a great contract — a big victory.

Photos: Team Solidarity