1980.11.04: Working class suffers from unsafe buses (Mass Media, UMass-Boston)

Mass Media, UMass-Boston
November 4, 1980

Point of view
Working class suffers from unsafe buses
by Michael Letwin

Just a 30 second walk from Columbia Station is the main picket site of 500 school bus drivers, members of United Steelworkers of America, Local 8751, who have been on strike against ARA Services since October 9th. But, despite its proximity, most UMB students, staff and faculty, along with the rest of the city, are confused about the situation.

The main, immediate issue of the strike is bus safety. ARA refuses to provide time for the drivers to clean the buses of trash, rats and mice or to make thorough daily safety checks of the buses. It won’t provide bus monitors. These safety violations endanger students and drivers alike. In addition, the company refuses to pay the drivers at a regular time for work they perform.

Why weren’t these problems resolved without a strike? Because the company has refused to budge on any of these issues. Since August 1980, it has committed massive violations of the union contract [and] state law. The drivers had no choice but to strike.

ARA provoked the situation because its real goal is to break the union. After forcing the union to strike, it fired 19 drivers — the entire official leadership of the local — the first day of the walkout.

It has been replacing the striking union drivers with non­union and untrained scab drivers. And, throughout the strike, the company has refused to negotiate the union’s grievances — until the drivers go back to work, minus the 19 fired and others whose jobs have been stolen by scabs.

In addition, the company hired 200 paramilitary goons to intimidate the drivers as part of its announced plan to spend at least $1 million dollars to beat the drivers, an amount of money that could easily pay for correcting the grievances that the union has filed.

ARA, a multinational, anti-­union corporation with about $3 billion in assets, can afford all this easily. It is reputed (according to The Boston Globe, 10/28/80) to be tied in with organized crime. It is under investigation for bribery and corruption in 12 states.

It has been found guilty of substandard nursing homes and fined thousands of dollars for bribery. It is currently under investigation for its role in paybacks to School Committee members in exchange for the Boston school bus contract.

ARA has also enjoyed the support of all levels of government. Gangs of Boston police are harassing and arresting union drivers and sympathizers every day on the picket tine, on the orders of ARA which is paying at least part of police costs.

The Boston School Committee, white dismembering the school budget, has continued to pay ARA, even for buses that aren’t running safely or at all. A federal judge has imprisoned 6 drivers for violating her pro-company back to work order.

The safety of students and the rights of drivers are reasons enough to support the strike. As with the overall situation in the Boston schools and the intense racist atmosphere of the city, it is the black, white and Latino working class community of Boston that suffers from the unsafe conditions on the buses.

But there is much more at stake than bus safety. For if ARA and its government allies is allowed to break the strike and bust the drivers’ union, it will be a signal to companies throughout the region that all unions and workers are easy prey.

All of us who work, whether in a union or not, will come under greater attack. And where our working conditions are under attack, the assault on our university level education will not be far behind.

So, the drivers are fighting for us all.

With great courage, the drivers — black, Latino, white, women, men, young and old — remain firm. Though they are getting not a penny in strike pay, the vast majority will not scab. As the still-imprisoned drivers put it recently: “We are prepared to stay here in jail as long as it takes to win our just demands for ourselves and the children of Boston.”

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