Thursday, June 27, 2013

How unions make you safer on the road

Unionized drivers in the curbside bus industry are laying down rules that make the trip safer for everyone -- and more profitable for the company.

After years of frustration with dangerous working conditions, low pay, and terrible healthcare, contract negotiations with Megabus workers in Chicago at Local 777 and Springfield, N.J., at Local 102 have made their buses safer.

Since organizing in 2011, Chicago Megabus drivers have better working conditions in a company that has a history of ignoring driver fatigue.

“If you are respected by your company, you have this sense that this is a profession,” said Courtney Bell, business agent for Teamsters Local 777. “Drivers have enforceable safety standards (and) Megabus is held accountable to (that) contract.”

Driver-related problems account for 60 percent of fatalities in the curbside bus industry, according to a report published by the Amalgamated Transit Union. Driver fatigue (38 percent) and driver medical condition (18 percent) head the list.

The Chicago contract set a living wage standard, provided a choice of different affordable healthcare plans and added co-drivers for most drives so tired drivers can switch places.

Legally, bus drivers aren’t required to receive overtime -- or, even minimum wage. Without union representation, many drivers are pressured to work up to 100 hours a week. ATU president Larry Hanley notes that:
The wages of most of these drivers are abysmally low. The website pegs the top wage of drivers at just $29,000 per year. The low wages often force workers to take a second job during their off hours—hours in which they should be resting before their next run. 
In order to save even more money, discount operators encourage or coerce their drivers to work overtime, thus avoiding the need to hire enough drivers to actually do the work.

The prevalence of unsafe, non-union companies is such a huge concern that the National Transportation Safety Board actually shut down a bunch of the unregulated death traps over the past year.

One of the non-union companies not only routinely falsified bus documents, but also racked up 39 safety violations in just two months:
The company repeatedly dispatched another driver whose medical certificate had expired and had been falsified. Drivers were not required by the company to turn in hours-of-service records or other required documentation such as driving itineraries and fuel receipts.
Without strong union support, drivers aren’t the only people left vulnerable. The public is safer with rested, healthy and professional drivers – and the reputation of the company has flourished because of it.

Since Megabus drivers in the Chicago and New Jersey hubs become Teamsters two years ago, Megabus has almost doubled its total amount of customer trips. Unlike other companies, the unionized Megabus hubs are doing more business than ever.