School bus drivers and bus aides at two First Student bus yards in the metro area voted four-to-one and two-to-one in two separate elections in recent weeks to organize as members of Teamsters Local 120.
The outcome of a third election at another First Student bus yard hangs on a handful of disputed ballots, although union representatives said Local 120 expected to win.
The elections, supervised by the National Labor Relations Board, took place as part of a nationwide agreement between the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and First Student’s parent company — First Group — under which the company pledged to remain neutral in the organizing campaigns.
“Someone came to my house. I said, ‘yep, we need a union,’” said Oakdale yard bus driver Carol Hastings, Maplewood. “The next thing I knew, I was part of the organizing committee.”
“I felt real strongly we needed to organize,” said Hastings, 50, who just finished her 12th year as a First Student driver.
“Our health care coverage is very expensive and very poor,” she reported. “Talking with a lot of people, that really is the number one benefit we need to get.”
Hastings said she loves her work but supported the union effort to help make her job a good job. “I love the kids that I drive. I love the families. I drive special needs kids,” she said. “You really get attached to them.”
“It’s really a job that could be a career for people,” Hastings said, “but you need to be able to make enough to earn a living. First Student has been making it difficult to have a bus driving career.”
Snelling yard driver Bejeaux Yang, St. Paul, said learning from Teamsters Local 120 organizers about First Student’s status as a profitable industry leader helped persuade him that drivers deserved a share of the company’s success.
“They definitely could be doing better in terms of taking care of their drivers,” said Yang, 26, who is married and has two sons, ages four months and two years. He has worked two years at First Student and until now, he said, he had looked at his work at First Student as just a temporary job.
“Without the union, we can’t really voice our opinions and tell First Student what we want,” Yang said. Now, Yang said, “we have hopes of getting something better.”
Both Hastings and Yang, who helped lead the organizing drives, have been elected stewards by their co-workers.
“It’s nice to have a group of 400 workers improve their working conditions with two strong votes,” said Brad A. Slawson, Jr. president of Teamsters Local 120.
Steve Share edits the Labor Review, the official publication of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation. Learn more at www.minneapolisunions.org
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