Rochester bus drivers win union


They voted. They waited 46 days for the results. And now they plan a party to celebrate. Bus operators and dispatchers at Rochester City Lines voted overwhelmingly Aug. 18 in a National Labor Relations Board election to unionize and become members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005.

Results of the vote were sealed pending an appeal by the employer over the make-up of the proposed bargaining unit. Then, Sept. 26, NLRB directors in Washington, D.C. issued a one-sentence decision upholding the Regional Director, who had ruled in favor of ATU’s position.

The votes were counted Oct. 3 in Minneapolis: 35 votes for the union, nine opposed. Five ballots were contested, four by the union, one by the employer.

“There was nervousness as they were counted,” said bus operator Terry Sprung, an 11-year employee of Rochester City Lines, who observed the count. “It turned out our calculations were pretty close.”

When the lopsided count was concluded, said bus operator Dave Gosha, “the [Rochester City Lines] general manager, his face dropped to the floor.”

Bus operators and dispatchers sought assistance organizing from the Minnesota AFL-CIO about four months ago. The state federation referred the inquiry to ATU Local 1005 in Minneapolis-St. Paul, which began an organizing campaign with the Rochester operators and dispatchers.

Rochester City Lines is a privately-held company which contracts with the City of Rochester to provide local bus service.

“We did our homework through this whole thing,” said Gosha. “We knew what we were up against. We had a lot of support from ATU. They made a commitment to us and we made a commitment to them.”

ATU Local 1005’s Marlin Jensen and Deborah Sievers served as the main organizers assisting the Rochester campaign.

Rochester City Lines employees explained why they sought a union:

“We weren’t treated with respect or dignity,” said Gosha, a two-year employee. “When I first joined with Rochester City Lines, I noticed there were a lot of inequities that weren’t fair to drivers.

“I started doing a lot of research on the company,” he said. “We’re the third largest transit district in Minnesota and we’re the least paid.”

“There were a lot of issues that I didn’t believe would be resolved in any other way. That’s how most people felt as well,” said Sprung.

“For a lot of people, health insurance was a huge issue,” Sprung continued. “Those benefits had been cut back more and more and made more expensive all the time. It didn’t make sense to carry it anymore.”

With the vote concluded, reported ATU Local 1005 president Michelle Sommers, “We have started collecting written [contract] proposals from the employees.”

“We just hope this will be a good opportunity for both us and our employer to move forward,” said Sprung. “We’re looking for a good relationship with our employer. We hope he will bargain in good faith.”

“It is a good group of employees there,” Sommers said. “They’re real strong. They’re together.”

As for the NLRB, Sommers noted, “We’ve heard horror stories” but ” this case went very smoothly and they handled it well.”

Steve Share edits the Labor Review, the official publication of the Minneapolis Central Labor Union Council. Visit the council’s website at