By International Brotherhood of Teamsters
Imagine having the opportunity to sit directly in front of the top global leaders of the company you work for and publicly call them to task for unacceptable working conditions.
Evelina Moultrie, Lester Hawthorne and Patricia Chillis, three school bus drivers from the United States, did just that in Birmingham last week at the AGM of National Express Group, parent company of their employer, Durham School Services.
The drivers were part of a delegation of Teamsters, including Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa and International Vice President Rick Middleton, there to raise serious workplace concerns with the National Express board.
Evelina, from Charleston, South Carolina, spoke about overcrowding as well as insects and mould on the buses she drives. She said, “On one bus, you have to use a broomstick to open the door. Some doors, you have to manually pull to keep them closed and safe.”
The National Express Board referenced a company survey which, they claim, showed 89% employee positive rating for job enjoyment, a survey which many workers don’t recall being offered or state they completed as managers hovered over them.
But Evelina said, “We love our jobs, but we don’t know where you’re getting the 89% statistic. We enjoy working with the kids, but we don’t like the treatment by the management we work for.”
Patricia, from Aurora, Illinois, told the Board that she bought a blanket for each of the 11 children she transports because the bus she drives would not warm up during Chicago’s cold winter. She explained: “Our toes and fingers were numb. I dress for the weather, but not all the kids are dressed for it. They shouldn’t have to sit on a bus that won’t warm up after driving it for almost an hour.”
National Express CEO Dean Finch suggested that Patricia request to get reimbursed for the cost of the blankets, to which she replied, “I don’t even know if I will have a job when I go home.”
Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa called on Sir John Armitt, Chairman of the National Express Board, to ensure the workers would not be retaliated against by management for speaking up, and Armitt gave his word that they would not.
Lester, a driver from Santa Rosa County, Florida, then asked why the company stood in the way of staff joining the Teamsters. He said, “We voted overwhelmingly to join the Teamsters and your company delayed the certification of our vote. Over a year later, it took the National Labor Relations Board to dismiss all of Durham’s objections to the vote and order recognition. Your company still hasn’t sat down to negotiate a contract. Why is management standing in the way of our right to have our union?”
Hoffa called on the Board to end the “bullying tactics” against workers. He said: “Why would you have two policies for how workers are treated, one in the US and one in the UK?”
The Teamsters found support from shareholders, with one after another raising their hand to address the Board on the topic of workers’ rights.
The Teamsters Union, three UK-based local authority pension funds and 100 individual investors sponsored shareholder Resolution 22, calling on the Board to improve oversight of workplace policies and practices.
While Resolution 22 was not expected to pass, the impact was significant, as it was the best supported shareholder resolution addressing labor issues filed with a UK-based company in the last decade.
The Teamsters Union, National Express workers, shareholder supporters, and Teamster allies, including Unite the Union and the International Transport Workers’ Federation, vowed to keep up the pressure until National Express respects and improves conditions for school bus workers in North America, for the sake of the workers and the children that they transport.
Read Teamster’s full blog post on their website here
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