Fight Back News Service is circulating the following statement from the Network to Fight for Economic Justice on the important victory by bus drivers in Alabama.
Alabama Bus Drivers Win Union Contract!
Statement from the Network to Fight for Economic Justice (NFEJ)
Union bus drivers at the University of Alabama are celebrating today! They voted to accept their first union contract late last night, March 8, 2010. All the members and supporters of the Network to Fight for Economic Justice are rejoicing with them!
Organizing a union and winning a first contract are difficult enough. To organize in the South where racism and intimidation are strong factors, is spectacular! The union workers and leaders of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1208 are to be congratulated for their grit and determination. They stood up and sent a message across the country, “We’re NOT going to take it anymore!”
Most of the bus drivers are African-American, and many are women. The key to victory was uniting the workers and having solid allies in the fight – especially the University of Alabama Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). SDS organized the campus support that shifted the balance in favor of the union. The students stayed up past midnight making poster board signs and showed up at the bus depot by 4:30 AM to walk the strike picket. While the bus drivers held the picket lines, SDS rallied students to actively support the strikers in ending their poverty wages. Public opinion overwhelmingly supported the bus drivers. It was powerful!
SDS also brought in the Network to Fight for Economic Justice to organize national call-in days targeting UA President Witt. The first call in day demanded Witt make a statement in support of the hard working bus drivers. The second one, during the one-day strike, demanded President Witt stop university “scab vans”. Union leaders and activists, welfare rights organizers, community organizers, and students called from at least thirty cities and towns – including Seattle, Chicago, Dallas, LA, Tucson, Boston, Birmingham, Asheville, Gainesville, Grand Rapids, Ann Arbor, Milwaukee, Olympia, Chapel Hill, and New York City. Mario Harmon, the ATU Local 1208 Secretary Treasurer, could not be more thankful for the solidarity shown.
The gains made by establishing the union contract are important and will benefit every worker. The First Transit management, part of British corporation FirstGroup, will no longer be able to fire workers at a whim. The union provides fairness to everyone. The wage increases negotiated at the table will raise most drivers out of poverty. The drivers won one more personal day, for a total of three. When a bus is unsafe, management will have to listen to the driver.
The rank and file bus drivers will have to prepare for the next contract struggle down the road. The union will need to make gains around affordable health care, sick days, and wage increases to match other union bus drivers. Today however, the victory is won! The workers now have a contract to build upon and they are setting an example to other workers to stand up and take back what belongs to them!