A Labor union is an organization formed by workers in a particular trade, industry, or company to improve pay, benefits, and working conditions. Officially known as a “labor organization,” and also called a “trade union” or a “worker’s union,” a labor union selects representatives to negotiate with employers in a process known as collective bargaining.
But do bus drivers actually need them?
I spent the first 7 years of my career in a labor union, and when I revoked my membership, I found myself in the free world with no representation against the big bad bus company who wanted to fire me and take my livelihood away.
But that never happened.
My relationship with my employer was fine, I wasn’t tossed in the firepit of unfairness or bad conditions like the union said I would be. It was the exact opposite. Then I began to question why in 2021 did drivers actually need a union?
If you talk to most bus drivers, they hate the way things are now, right?
They think things are unfair now, right?
This is with a union that is supposed to protect us right?
I raised this question often in different meetings and town halls, only to be met with a “ they (the agency) are going to do what the hell they want anyway”. Which may or may not be true, but again, if that is the case…..what do we need a union for?
Over time…..I began to realize that transit unions don’t protect drivers
They place a glass ceiling on them.
Imagine working a job, where your actual skill or performance is not taken into account when opportunities become available? This is seniority in a nutshell.
Your pay is not determined by how well you may do your job.
The opportunities you get are not determined by how well you perform.
They are determined by who got hired first.
Your only way to grow in a seniority-based system is to just wait it out.
While unions may have national footprints, they are separated and divided into something called “locals”.
Locals in short are different branches of the same union. You would assume that if “ Bus Driver Union A” has different branches all over the United States, I should be able to transfer to another one rather easily without losing much, right? Wrong. It’s the exact opposite.
To put it in perspective here is a story about 2 transit workers who decided to move to Texas. One was a transit planner, one was a transit driver. They both are experts in their field, with 10+ years of experience.
When the transit planner left, the ten years of experience he had made him a more valuable asset. He was able to leverage that in negotiating his wage and schedule. He even gets performance-based bonuses and can ask his employer for a raise when he feels it’s justified.
The transit operator had 10 years of experience as well when he left, but because of the way unions work, his 10 years did not matter, he had to start over from the bottom because at this particular local, he was a new member and had no seniority.
His wage reset, and his schedule options all but disappeared. There were no performance-based bonuses, nor can he ask for a raise because his wages are dependent on time served.
For most drivers this keeps them boxed in situations, jobs, or cities they may not want to be in, just because they don’t want to lose what they have,
I remember my first time being introduced to the union, that meeting can be summed up in 2 major points.
The transit company is evil
The union is here to protect me from the evil people in the suits.
I thought this was weird, mainly because my assumption was why are we working for evil people in the first place?
But that’s another conversation for another time. It took for me to leave the union and ultimately leave bus operations to see firsthand that the transit company isn’t evil at all.
As operators, we have a business partnership with transit agencies. We need each other to achieve goals. I’ve had the privilege of working alongside transit agencies as a bus scheduler at one point, and as a vendor now, and I can assure you that bus drivers are the first consideration in almost every conversation. Agencies see the value in operators. I kid you not, you would be surprised how much money and time they put into trying to find ways to make operators happy.
Do they get it right every time, no? But there is not a lack of effort on their behalf.
Like most operators, we weren’t taught or shown this. We weren’t sold the true relationship between operators and the agency, we were sold fear.
We were taught that the bus company just wants to fire people, privatization kills jobs, and the agency we work for is not a partner, but rather the enemy.
True story- when Supir was initially created, it was created as a mobile app that let transit companies summon additional bus operators in the same way you summon an Uber.
This would help the frontline operators get relived more consistently. Good idea right? I thought so, most drivers did too,
Unions didn’t. They didn’t view me or Supir as a way to solve their driver’s pain points. They viewed us as the big bad company that wants to take jobs away from their workers. In return I was asked to leave nearly every Union hall I went to.
That brings me to my next point
Unions and agencies work within a CBA. A collective agreement on how things should be done between 2 parties
In short….. it’s a contract.
This concept isn’t unique it’s quite common. Big companies like Apple have CBA’s. As a vendor, Supir has contracts too. They aren’t all bad, however here is why they do not work for bus drivers. Transit CBA’s do not treat you as an individual, rather as a link in a very wide chain. In most industries, a CBA acts as a framework to negotiate within, not the all in be-all solution for workers. Let’s use The NFL as an example. The player’s unions negotiate the general terms with the NFL on general business guidelines, and rules to conduct business however, the players still negotiate and dictate the terms of the contracts they ultimately sign with the team. Transit CBA’s don’t operate like this, they create “one contract” that everyone follows.
Most things in a transit union operate on a vote-centered system. The union will act upon how its membership votes. This means that anything is liable to get changed or altered with enough backing. While in theory, this may appear good, it becomes problematic because millennials and the generations behind them are vastly outnumbered by older operators.
This is why the industry has been so resistant to change and innovation. It’s a hard no for younger or newer bus operators to be a part of an industry in which they will have no real say so in how their fate is decided. This is one of the main reasons why the transportation industry abroad is struggling to secure the next generation of talent.
Supir was able to get nearly 7000 drivers to sign up on our platform just based upon our freelance model being more favorable to younger drivers.
Individual contracts, flexible shifts, digital communication, and a social-first approached helped us sell younger drivers on a new way to work.