Boston — It seems obvious now. When Thomas Hock, the vice president for labor relations of Veolia Transportation, signed a contract with the Boston Public Schools that brought the company to Boston last June to run the city’s school buses, this racist, union-busting company had one purpose and one purpose only: to destroy the region’s predominantly Black school bus drivers’ union. Local 8751 of the United Steelworkers is the most militant, progressive union in Boston.
Veolia’s lockout of the school bus drivers during a protected labor meeting on Oct. 8 and the subsequent firing of four of 8751’s top leadership in early November totally exposed its racist, anti-union agenda. But, it turns out, this is just the tip of the iceberg, given the company’s long history of anti-labor activity.
So egregious is the anti-worker history of Professional Transit Management — now wholly owned by Veolia — that since 2005 the National Labor Relations Board received 47 complaints against PTM. Moreover, Hock has been involved in negotiations that resulted in seven strikes since 2001.
So wide-ranging is Veolia’s anti-labor record that the Service Employees union and the Amalgamated Transit Union have each published well-documented research on Veolia that captures in great detail the company’s virulent hostility to people who drive buses and their unions.
Several times PTM has been ordered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to correct its unlawful, racist behavior. For example, in 2007 PTM was ordered to pay $450,000 to six transit workers in Colorado Springs, Colo., for racial discrimination. Nancy A. Weeks, supervisory trial attorney in the EEOC’s Denver field office, which brought the suit, noted: “The egregiousness of the threats and racial and national origin harassment in this case is stunning. We are pleased that the minority employees at Springs Transit have been compensated in some way for the terrible treatment they endured.”
In another case currently before a U.S. District Court of Appeals, Marilyn Shazor, an African-American woman, was employed by Hock and Veolia as chief executive officer of Cincinnati Metro, the bus system of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority. She says she was unlawfully terminated in August 2010, replaced with a white male, and intentionally defamed by PTM and Hock, when they publicized untrue statements about the reason for her termination.
In a discrimination case currently in mediation, the Disability Rights Legal Center filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and its contractor, Veolia Transportation Services Inc., alleging disability discrimination against people who use wheelchairs on fixed-route buses. The lawsuit alleges that the MTA and Veolia consistently failed to comply with long-standing regulations that require bus drivers to ask nondisabled people to move from designated wheelchair locations to allow people requiring such accessibility features to use them.
A pattern of attempted union busting
Hock/Veolia’s union-busting strategy reveals a pattern of bad faith bargaining or refusal to bargain, spying on employees, making coercive statements, and illegally firing or punishing employees for engaging in union activities. Here are a few recent examples.
San Francisco: At the same time they were competing for the Boston school bus contract earlier in 2013, Hock and Veolia received $399,000 for a few months’ work negotiating for Bay Area Rapid Transit against its workers, represented by SEIU 1021 and ATU Local 1555. These negotiations provoked a strike on July 1. After that, Veolia earned thousands of dollars by contracting with BART to shuttle passengers during the strike. This action brought a complaint that Hock/Veolia violated the district government’s conflict of interest policy — “using their position to influence government decisions in which they have a reason to know they have a financial interest.” (keepbartrunning.com, Nov. 20)
Phoenix: In hearings before the National Labor Relations Board in 2012, Veolia was found to have engaged in “regressive, bad-faith, and surface bargaining,” among many unfair labor practices, which forced a strike by Phoenix bus drivers represented by ATU Local 1433. Veolia subsequently agreed to a settlement promising to cease all illegal activities, but continued its illegal conduct. Only after Veolia was threatened with a federally mandated default settlement did the company back down and agree to a deal with its employees, ending the strike.
Las Vegas: Bus drivers accused Veolia of retaliation and firings of union employees and of refusing to furnish its existing union, ATU Local 1637, with information needed to conduct negotiations. Again, federal authorities intervened. The NLRB ordered Veolia “to cease and desist from refusing to bargain collectively” and to stop “interfering with, restraining or coercing its employees in the exercise of their right to self-organization.” (East Bay Express, July 10, 2013)
Pensacola Fla.: In October 2011 after refusing to bargain in good faith, Veolia hired 200 scab workers to try to replace union bus drivers who struck for one day. ATU Local 1395 filed numerous charges against Veolia with the NLRB, and the community organized a coalition that included the NAACP, Rainbow Coalition, Occupy Pensacola, churches, riders and disabled groups that forced the county to terminate its contract with Veolia.
Pensacola is not the only city to dump Veolia after community pressure. City governments have terminated contracts with Veolia in Grand Rapids, Mich.; Indianapolis, Ind.; Rockland, Mass.; San Diego, Calif.; St. Louis; and Paris, its hometown, as well as several other cities in France. (Labor Notes, December 2012)