Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sweatshops on Wheels: Durham School Bus Drivers Organizing With Teamsters

School bus drivers with Durham School Services in Hayward and Livermore, California (near San Francisco) are organizing with the Teamsters to fight their terrible working conditions. The 180 drivers will vote on February 17 whether or not to join the Teamsters. Since the “Drive Up Standards” campaign began in 2006, more than 32,400 drivers, monitors, aides, attendants and mechanics have joined the Teamsters according to the Sacramento Bee..

Durham drivers have complained about being forced to drive old, beat up vehicles that regularly break down on the job, lack functioning air conditioning and have holes in the floors, the San Jose Mercury News reported last week. One driver said the brakes went out on her in front of her home.

Drivers do not have paid sick leave and the health insurance offered by Durham is so expensive that many go without. As a result, drivers have no choice but to come to work when they are sick, which not only exposes students to their germs, but may also reduce their alertness and concentration behind the wheel.

Durham, the second largest provider of school bus transportation services in the United States, provides transportation to 11 school districts in northern California. Durham is a subsidiary of National Express Group, a large multinational corporation based in the UK. John Logan, who is a Professor at San Francisco State University and Visiting Research Fellow at University of California-Berkeley, recently published a report detailing National Express Group's anti-worker behavior in the U.S. and its failure to uphold international labor rights standards.   

In September, National Express Group purchased Petermann Bus Company for $200 million, according to the Mercury News. Peterman drives special needs children to school in Oakland. Drivers are furious that their employer is shelling out millions to buy another bus company, but cannot afford to have replacement busses on hand when there are breakdowns. If an extra bus cannot be found, the driver is sent home and the company hires a taxi to drive the students, even though cab drivers are not fingerprinted or subjected to background checks like other school employees.
Earlier this month, school bus drivers, aides and mechanics with Durham School Services in Elgin, Illinois, voted by a nearly 2 to 1 margin to join Teamsters Local 330, culminating a two year organizing effort. As in the current struggle in San Leandro and Hayward, the Illinois drivers were confronted with an assortment of bullying and harassment tactics by their bosses. Workers were given anti-union literature, for example, and were forced to attend anti-union meetings held by their employers.

To see more interviews with drivers, click on any of the following links:

Teachers Offer the Wealthy an Escape from Poverty

The following is from Anthony Cody’s excellent critique of the education portion of Obama’s state of the union speech. In a nutshell, if a teacher really did increase the lifetime income of a classroom by $250,000, so what? Spread out over the 40 years of each student’s career, that would amount to only $250 per person per year, enough for a nice date, Sunday afternoon beers or some practical work clothes, but nowhere near enough to bring poor kids into the middle class. And if he really wanted us to not teach to the test, he wouldn’t tie our evaluations and salaries to students’ test scores.

Last night in President Obama's State of the Union address, he repeated a familiar refrain about the importance of teachers. 

A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to the child who dreams beyond his circumstance.
But it seems that it is those in power who are actually using teachers to escape from the realities of poverty these days. 

President Obama offered as evidence a citation from a recent Harvard report:
We know a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000.

He went on to say,
Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let's offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren't helping kids learn.
There are several problems with this. As others have pointed out, if you take a classroom of 25 students, and spread $250,000 over their 40 years of earnings, this amount comes to a grand total of $250 a year per student. This is unlikely to represent an escape from poverty. (see more thorough responses to the Chetty report here, and here.)

The second problem is a glaring contradiction, a logical flaw so huge it has been overlooked by almost every journalist apparently too polite to challenge the administration on it. If you do not wish teachers to teach to the test, if you want them to be passionate and creative, then how can you insist that their performance be measured by the use of test scores?

Let us be crystal clear. The Obama administration has made the use of test scores to evaluate principals and teachers a pre-condition for federal aid. Both Race to the Top and the NCLB waivers require that states develop evaluation processes that incorporate this data.
To see the rest of this article, please click here.

Today in Labor History—January 31

January 31, 1606 – Guy Fawkes jumped to his death moments before his execution for treason. Guy Fawkes belonged to a group of provincial English Catholics who planned the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Fawkes, who had converted to Catholicism, also fought in the Eighty Years' War on the side of Catholic Spain against Protestant Dutch reformers. He later travelled to Spain to seek support for a Catholic rebellion in England but was unsuccessful. In 1604 Fawkes became involved with a small group of English Catholics, led by Robert Catesby, who planned to assassinate the Protestant King James and replace him with his daughter, third in the line of succession, Princess Elizabeth (From the Daily Bleed and Wikipedia)

January 31, 1912 – A General Strike began in Brisbane, Australia that lasted until March 6. It came in response to the suspension of tramway workers for wearing union badges. (From the Daily Bleed)

Tanks and soldiers billeted in the Saltmarket area of Glasgow in the weeks following the 1919 Battle of George Square
 January 31, 1919 – Bloody Friday occurred in Glasgow when 60,000 demonstrators gathered in George Square in support of a strike and police launched a vicious and unprovoked attack on the demonstrators, felling unarmed men and women with their batons. The demonstrators retaliated with fists, iron railings and broken bottles and forced the police into a retreat. An estimated 10,000 English troops were sent to Glasgow in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of George Square. Monday February 10th the strike is called off. (From the Daily Bleed)

January 31, 1940 - Ida M. Fuller became the first person to receive an old-age monthly benefit check under the new Social Security law, receiving a check for a whopping $22.54. She paid in $24.75 between 1937 and 1939 on an income of $2,484. (From Workday Minnesota)

January 31, 1972 – The IRA called a general strike, the day after Bloody Sunday.
(From the Daily Bleed)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Today in Labor History—January 30

January 30, 1826 – Gustave Lefrancais (1826-1901) was born on this date. Lefrancais was a French revolutionary, member of the First International, participant in the Paris Commune and a founder of the anarchist Jura Federation. (From the Daily Bleed)

January 30, 1909 -- Organizer Saul Alinsky was born on this date i, Chicago, Illinois. (From the Daily Bleed)

January 30, 1919 - The International Labor Organization (ILO) was founded on this date. The ILO is an international watchdog for workers' rights. (From Workday Minnesota)

January 30, 1970 – For the second time in six months, rioting broke out during an anti-war protest in East Los Angeles. (From the Daily Bleed)

January 30, 1970 – 20,000 rioted in Manila to protest the regime of U.S.-backed dictator Ferdinand Marcos following his State of the Nation address. Over 2000 attempted to storm the presidential palace on the 30th & riots continue throughout the year.
(From the Daily Bleed)

January 30, 1972 – Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland occurred on this date when British soldiers gunned down 14 Roman Catholic civil-rights marchers in Derry.
(From the Daily Bleed)

January 30, 1992 – Chicago gravediggers ended a 43-day strike. (From the Daily Bleed)