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Campus Bus Drivers Fight for Fair Wages

By Laura Langley |
February 4, 2010
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Students in solidarity with the Crimson Ride drivers
Students in solidarity with the Crimson Ride drivers (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Tuscaloosa, AL - Bus drivers, with the support of students at the University of Alabama (UA), are organizing a union campaign to win a living wage. The bus drivers shuttle students, football fans and others around the UA campus. Student activists are riding the buses to sign up student supporters for the bus drivers. The 62 Crimson Ride Shuttle Bus drivers work for FirstGroup PLC, a huge British multinational corporation. The union drivers and students are exposing the British company’s big ripoff of Alabama workers and taxpayers.

The bus drivers, most of whom are African American women, make only $9.50 per hour. This salary puts the drivers and their families below the poverty line. In May of 2009, the Crimson Ride Shuttle Bus Drivers at the University of Alabama unanimously voted to join the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1208, but still do not have a contract. Without a contract there are few benefits. The drivers have no job security. There are no guidelines regulating termination. The drivers are paid nothing during university holidays. Many work two jobs to make ends meet.

The University pays FirstGroup PLC $55 per work hour - a huge profit of over $1 million a year. The drivers are demanding a living wage of $14 per hour - a fair wage comparable to other state university bus drivers. $14 per hour will raise them out of poverty. FirstGroup PLC has not yet agreed to a negotiating meeting with ATU Local 1208. If a contract has not been negotiated by May, the union will vote to take further action.

Members of UA’s Students for a Democratic Society chapter are working hard to promote student support for the bus drivers. Tia Brown, a Crimson Ride driver and union steward said, “Students have the power to put a lot pressure on the university to do something.” SDS has been flyering around their campus, as well as making announcements on the Crimson Ride buses, to inform other students about the driver’s union and their demands.

A member of SDS, Jenae Stainer, said, “African American workers continue to struggle for equality, especially here in the South where we have not yet overcome the history of racism. Though people may have moved from the back of the buses to the drivers’ seats, they still don't have the justice they deserve.”

UA students have shown a lot of solidarity with the hard working drivers, many agreeing to sign a petition in support of the drivers’ demands. SDS plans to have 1000 student signatures by Feb. 11. On that day, there will be a national call-in day for union proponents to demand that the president of the University of Alabama tell FirstGroup PLC to pay the drivers a living wage. The number to call on Feb. 11 is 205-348-5103.