August / September 2015
Newsletter Volume 60, Number3

A Rising Road Lifts All Buses

Everyone knows the phrase, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” We hear it a lot when people explain what unions do for workers. The argument goes that when enough workers in an industry get organized, the wage and benefits they negotiate will drive up standards for everyone in that industry, including non-union workers. In the case of shuttle bus drivers in the Bay Area, we are seeing that “a rising road lifts all buses.”

In previous newsletters, we wrote about the victorious organizing campaign of 87 Loop Transportation drivers who drive for Facebook. (That group is now up to 128 drivers.) Starting with an election in November 2014, the workers negotiated an amazing first contract in February that provides for average $9/ hour wage increases (from $18 to $27.50/hour), fullypaid family health care, up to five weeks paid vacation, 11 paid holidays, bereavement leave, a pension, and more. That following weekend, more than 150 Compass Transportation drivers for Apple, Yahoo, Ebay, and other companies won their election. They are negotiating a contract right now and hope to wrap it up soon. In the meantime, hundreds more workers for roughly a dozen shuttle companies are on the move.

This organizing, although small in number, set off a chain reaction that nobody anticipated. (See "timeline below.) After the victories at Loop and Compass, in March, Apple and Google announced across the board 25% wage increases for all shuttle bus drivers–union and non-union alike. The companies were responding to collective pressure from both the Facebook victory and Silicon Valley Rising, a joint campaign between us, SEIU USWW, UNITE HERE, the South Bay Labor Council, Working Partnerships USA, and community allies.

These wage increases appear to have forced other shuttle bus companies to follow suit just to keep their drivers from going to one of the better- paying companies. One employer estimated to our Joint Council President Rome Aloise that wages have gone up 30% in the market since we started.

Almost overnight, the Teamsters had raised the wages in the Bay Area’s high tech shuttle bus market. But the ripple effects didn’t stop there. The same shuttle companies that service the high tech industry also service airports, transit agencies, and other clients in the Bay Area. For example, we represented Loop drivers at the San Francisco and Oakland airports before the Facebook group organized. All of a sudden, those clients find themselves in a position where they need to raise wages and benefits just to keep their drivers.

Nowhere has this been more obvious than at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), where Teamsters Local 853 represents about 145 paratransit drivers. They transport San Francisco’s disabled, elderly, and infirm under a contract SFMTA has with TransDev—the parent company for Compass Transportation. Local 853 started bargaining with TransDev in November of last year, and by April, had only secured a proposal for 1% wage increases. After meeting with Mayor Ed Lee, several members of the Board of Supervisors, and the SFMTA staff, we saw some movement. Angry members, led by some very strong stewards, were threatening a strike as a last resort. Nobody wanted to leave the riders stranded, but with median rents in San Francisco hitting a ridiculous $4,225 per month, something had to be done for our members.

Active members pushed the issues with two active business agents (Efren Alarcon and Adolph Felix), and strong help from political allies–particularly San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, and in May, things broke. Remember: this was a little more than a month after Apple and Google announced pay raises to try and keep pace with Facebook.

All of a sudden, money seemed to appear out of nowhere. TransDev offered up an $8 raise over the five-year contract, which amounted to a whopping 44% increase. They upped the paid days off from 12 to 25 and included 5 paid holidays – up from zero!

In a twist, the members voted the contract down by a 90-3 vote. In rejecting the contract, the members were able to push through a 401k plan with an employer match and some changes to disciplinary and attendance policies. That contract was ratified by a 91-2 vote. This huge victory is sure to push up wages in the paratransit industry in the Bay Area!

In a similar manner, we are starting to see proposals for double-digit wage increases for school bus drivers and others come across the bargaining table. For all the naysayers and anti-union people out there, this is proof positive about the union difference. The facts are clear: UNIONS HELP ALL WORKERS.

But just as important as the wages and benefits, the story of the SFMTA Teamsters tells the other story of the difference that unions make for workers. The fact that members could negotiate a contract, vote it down, and threaten to strike, all without any threat to their job security, gave them a collective power that no non-union shuttle bus driver enjoys. That is why we are not stopping until we’ve organized this whole industry!

Shuttle Driver Organizing Timeline

November 2014: 87 Loop Facebook drivers vote to join Teamsters

February 2015: Loop Facebook drivers ratify contract that provides for average $9/hour wage increases (from $18 to $27.50/hour), fully paid family health care, up to 5 weeks paid vacation, 11 paid holidays, bereavement leave, a pension, and more

February 2015: Over 150 Compass Transportation drivers (for Apple, Yahoo, eBay) vote to join Teamsters

March 2015: Apple and Google announce 25% pay increase for all contract shuttle bus drivers

May 2015: TransDev MTA drivers ratify contract that provides $8/hour wage increases (a 44% increase), 25 paid days off (up from 12), 5 paid holidays, and a 401k plan with an employer match.