In Tuscaloosa, Alabama, bus drivers are in the midst of a struggle for a living wage. Fed up with earning poverty wages, the bus drivers are demanding their first union contract. Nearly a year ago, the Crimson Ride bus drivers voted unanimously to join Amalgamate Transit Union (ATU) Local 1208.
The University of Alabama contracts out to First Transit, a division of the massive British multinational FirstGroup PLC, which runs the Crimson Ride bus service on campus. The university pays the company $55.50 an hour, and in turn, the company pays the drivers a paltry $9.50 an hour – poverty wages. The union drivers are demanding $14 per hour and benefits comparable to university bus drivers in other states.
First Transit employs more than 60 drivers. Most are African-American and many are women. They face intimidation and harassment on the job from the boss. They receive none of the benefits that employees of the University of Alabama get. There is no pay on university holidays or during school breaks. Most cannot afford the expensive health care coverage that First Transit offers. Many work two jobs to make ends meet.
The South is not a friendly place for workers – ‘right to work’ laws make forming a union a nearly impossible task. Wages are lower and poverty is higher in the South due to racism against African-Americans and the lack of unions. Despite these obstacles, the Crimson Ride drivers are demanding the wages and benefits they deserve. The union drivers are launching a campaign to ask University of Alabama President Dr. Robert Witt to tell First Transit to meet the demands of the union. Supporting the union drivers, the Tuscaloosa chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) is boarding buses to gather petition signatures.
During the 1950s and ‘60s in Alabama, courageous men, women and children fought for justice and civil rights. Rosa Parks refused to budge from her seat at the front of the bus. Today, the Crimson Ride bus drivers are standing up and fighting back for equal treatment, fair pay, and workers’ rights.
“First Transit, Stop Stalling!”
The Network to Fight for Economic Justice (NFEJ) is calling on trade unionists, housing activists, civil and equal rights groups, community organizations and students from across the country to stand in solidarity with the Crimson Ride drivers. Statements of solidarity can be sent to Union Steward Tia Brown at email@example.com.
The NFEJ is organizing a National Call In Day on February 17th:
Call Dr. Witt, President of the University of Alabama at 205-348-5103 and tell him “Stop stalling! We want a contract! Justice for the bus drivers now!”