The city of Boston and the Veolia Corporation have responded to the Boston school bus drivers’ union show of strength at its June 30th Solidarity Day III demonstration with an outrageous set of trumped-up charges against one of the union leaders: driver and union founder Stevan Kirschbaum.
With contract negotiations taking place, these frame-up tactics reflect Veolia’s frustration that the union has refused to crumble despite a 10-month campaign against it.
In 2013, Veolia’s firing of four leaders of United Steelworkers Local 8751 — Andre Francois, Steve Gillis, Garry Murchison and Kirschbaum — was accompanied by a corporate media campaign attacking the union. That campaign — starting with a lockout by Veolia that the media falsely called a strike — was meant to isolate the union and pave the way for the outrageous gutting of the union contract, which the company is now attempting at the bargaining table.
The most recent Solidarity Day demonstration — in which 500 marched to demand the reinstatement of the four, a just contract and an end to Boston’s racist austerity cuts in public education — showed that this attempt to isolate the union has been unsuccessful.
On June 30, when the union contract was set to expire at midnight, several hundred rank-and-file union members were joined by local City Council people, union officials and the drivers’ rock-solid coalition of allies for a spirited demonstration through the streets of Dorchester, Mass. The Solidarity Day protesters chanted “No contract, no work!” and “Veolia, we say no, union busting’s got to go!”
African-American City Councilmember Charles Yancey told the crowd of mostly bus drivers, “You deserve support from the public, the parents, the teachers and every union in the city of Boston. You’ve demonstrated your integrity, you’ve demonstrated your strength — and you’ve negotiated great contracts for school bus drivers.”
The rally ended with an impromptu union membership briefing in the Freeport bus yard’s drivers’ room. The union leaders advised both the company and Boston Public Schools’ representatives that the union members were asserting their contract rights to “access to the property” to conduct union activity – namely, a critical briefing on that day’s contract negotiations, with expiration of the contract just hours away.
The strong rally and the militant meeting held on Veolia’s premises showed unequivocally that the union has allies and was willing to fight.
The response of the city of Boston and Veolia was an outrageous and viciously dishonest set of charges against Kirschbaum, the union grievance chair and an elected member of the negotiating committee.
While the meeting in the drivers’ room was attended by a hundred members who had participated in the preceding rally, and despite the fact that meeting room doors were not locked, Kirschbaum alone has been charged with breaking and entering, assault with a deadly weapon, trespassing and malicious destruction of property.
That these trumped-up charges are nothing but pro-company, union-busting lies was obvious to anyone who attended that meeting on June 30.
But the charges have given the city and Veolia the ability to renew the campaign to isolate and demonize the union.
Power in class unity
The bosses are all too conscious of the fact that the expiration of the contract means the school bus drivers can legally strike. This and the embrace of Solidarity Day III by the leaders of Boston’s organized labor has compelled them to try to obliterate any potential increase in solidarity with the union.
Solidarity Day III was endorsed by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. Rich Rogers, of the Greater Boston Labor Council — who spoke in February at the union’s Solidarity Day II rally — showed up again on June 30 to speak and show support. “One thing I know from many years of knowing Local 8751: There’s no quit in this union,” Rogers said from the stage. “And we’re behind it 100 percent!”
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2222 Director Myles Calvey — whose union has been providing material and moral support for Local 8751 — said, “This is a fight for all of organized labor. Local 2222 and the AFL-CIO cannot allow this union busting to stand!”
One of the rally’s most powerful speakers was Joe Carlson, who represented the United Steelworkers International and who served for decades as the staff representative for Local 8751. “The union showed me Veolia’s concession demands,” he told the crowd, “and I’m telling you — I haven’t been so pissed off in a long time!
“Forty years of improvements and Veolia thinks it can take them all back in one day! That’s not going to happen on the Steelworkers’ watch,” Carlson vowed. “Veolia has to learn what the word ‘respect’ means!”
Anyone who saw Veolia’s concession demands would be outraged. The company is proposing insulting, below-inflation hourly wage offers that amount to pay cuts; requiring the use of global positioning systems in order to further reduce wages; cutting health insurance; gutting long-term disability; and abolishing many past practices the union has won over its 40-year existence.
These demeaning demands represent a racist attack on a majority-Haitian, immigrant-workers’ union that has supported so many other unions and struggles over the years.
Whether it was fighting to keep Grove Hall post office open, helping oppose austerity cuts in public education, marching in the annual lesbian-gay-bi-trans-queer Pride parade or taking a stand against U.S. wars and U.S.-backed war crimes, members of Local 8751 have consistently acted in the broader interests of their class in addition to the interests of their union.
On June 15, hundreds of marchers in Boston’s Pride march signed a petition backing the union for its 40 years of solid support for Boston’s LGBTQ community.
Charles Clemons, of Touch 106.1, Boston’s African-American-based radio station now being harassed by the federal government, said what many in the crowd were thinking: “My sisters and brothers’ problems are my problems — and we’re going to solve these problems together! Unity is more powerful than a nuclear bomb!”
The frame-up charges against Kirschbaum are an attempt to prevent the solidarity and sympathy that already exist for the union from spreading.
The members of the union’s Team Solidarity are calling on all supporters to help pack the court for Kirschbaum’s arraignment on July 14 at 8:30 a.m. — at Dorchester Court at 510 Washington St. — and to endorse the call to drop the frame-up charges. For more information, go to the Team Solidarity Facebook page.