On the picket line

In Mississippi, rural school bus drivers strike and win! 

The pandemic has created a health crisis for workers who do not have the luxury of shifting to other jobs or taking a furlough with pay until the worst is over. Workers still engaging with the general public are at high risk of exposure to COVID-19. 

In fact many such workers have fallen ill and are unable to return to work or have left their positions to seek a safer employment situation. The labor shortages now spanning industries like health care, education, manufacturing, hospitality and transportation have exposed the poor working conditions of these essential workers. 

Fed up with their treatment by the bosses, many of these workers have been protesting poor safety measures, low wages and irregular hours. They have seen they can win concessions when they organize and withhold their labor power. 

A stunning example of such a win came Jan. 21 from school bus drivers in a rural county in Mississippi, who serve a mostly African American student population. 

The Jefferson Davis County School Board tried to solve their bus driver shortage by hiring temporary drivers and paying them $25 an hour — when the average salary for school bus drivers in the county is $12 to $15 an hour. 

The next day, regular drivers went on strike — for only one hour — to protest this unfair development. The short strike was a warning — with drivers getting all students to school that day.

The same evening, the school board held an emergency meeting and voted unanimously to increase the regular drivers’ wage to $20 an hour.

To win a raise of $5 to $7 an hour with a one-hour strike — quite a victory!

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