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It was announced today that UK transportation giant FirstGroup PLC will be purchasing Laidlaw International – the owner of Greyhound – for nearly £2 billion. For most, this may sound like another stale business story. But FirstGroup and Laidlaw are also two of the largest private sector school bus operators in the U.S.

Roughly half of the nation’s school districts outsource the responsibility of driving your children to and from school. The Teamsters are not against outsourcing services to achieve savings through economies of scale. We represent both public and private sector drivers. What we object to are companies that cut corners, fail to pay descent wages and put children at risk.

First Student, the U.S. subsidiary of FirstGroup, is just such a company. And that is what should concern every parent who sends a child off to school on First Student bus.

Not only has First Student gone back on its word to remain neutral in union organizing efforts, as ordered by its board of directors. But its two and one-half year failure to conduct background checks on its drivers in Columbus, Ohio, resulted in a district-wide shutdown last month.

The company's failure to conduct the background checks was discovered after a First Student driver was pulled over on his way to pick up a group of students. In the seat next to him was a syringe of cocaine.

After Ohio's attorney general stepped in to conduct the state mandated background checks, five of the 60 First Student drivers were found to have blemished records that prevented them from returning to work.

"I am gravely concerned about this," Ohio AG Marc Dunn told Columbus Channel 10 News.

What's worse is that this sort of irresponsibility is not limited to Ohio. According to the Channel 10 story:

  • 85 percent of the First Student buses in New Jersey failed state safety inspections.
  • In Chicopee, Massachusetts, the school board fired first student last year for poor performance, which included children being on buses longer than the legal maximum.
  • Three years ago, Bath, Maine, schools dropped First Student saying the company failed to meet its transportation needs, failed to properly train drivers and failed to submit results for medical examinations, drug testing and background checks.

And just a few days after the arrest in Columbus, Ohio, a First Student driver in St. Paul, Minnesota, struck and killed a pedestrian. He was driving on a suspended license and had a record of repeated moving and parking violations.

This pattern of disregard for safety has also cost the life of at least one worker and injured another in Boston. A First Student mechanic died March 9 from inhaling high levels of carbon monoxide in a poorly ventilated area of the Boston bus yard where he worked. Just one month later, on April 18, another mechanic was injured at a separate First Student Boston yard where malfunctioning safety devices caused him to be struck by a 10-ton air jack used to lift buses.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined First Student didn't perform annual inspections that could have identified safety problems. OSHA recently cited First Student for nine violations of workplace safety standards and has called for $95,000 in fines.

Combined, Laidlaw and First Student would control half of the private school bus market, subjecting hundreds of thousands of kids in virtually every community in every state to First Student's disregard for safety. Add in Greyhound and the city bus services the companies operate and the risks are even greater.

The Teamsters represent a few thousand First Student drivers and more are voting to join the union every day. About 7,000 Laidlaw drivers are also members. The companies are in the same business, but have drastically different records.

Where we are winning contracts at First Student, workers are driving up safety standards and speaking out about lax maintenance procedures. A union contract and grievance procedures give workers a voice – a safety net that allows them the opportunity to speak up without fearing reprisal.

A union contract also means that bus companies make a bigger investment in wages and benefits. This makes them more likely to hire and retain high quality professional drivers rather than settle for sketchy applicants willing to take what they can get.

Companies that pay the lowest wages often are the ones with the highest turnover and lowest hiring standards. Turnover at First Student is around 30 percent a year. This constant need to fill seats and maintain lowball school contracts could easily persuade some managers to "forget" background checks or to report drug testing results. And while taxpayers get the benefit of lower school transportation costs, who will pay the price?

Find out who is driving the buses at your children's schools. Ask if they are union. If they are not, consider driving your kid to school yourself.

Originally posted to TeamsterPower on Fri Feb 09, 2007 at 11:53 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  my experience with school buses (0+ / 0-)

    My child hasn't ridden on the bus often.  I drive her to and from school.  She's been on about five or six field trips between daycare and school, and the bus has broken down on two occasions.  Those aren't good odds.  On one occasion, three school buses worth of kids were crammed onto one bus.  On another occasion (at daycare), they sat in the bus by the side of the interstate for about an hour while the other bus came back for them, during a hot Texas summer.  It was so hot that a good samaritan stopped and distributed cold water to all the kids.

    Our doubts about the safety of school buses have increased with every incident.  The side of an interstate is not a safe place for children to be sitting around, even inside a bus.

  •  Not in the school bus usage yet (0+ / 0-)

    My oldest kid is only 3, but I remember my days of school bus riding and if it's gotten worse, then we need to do something.

    Can I suggest you cross-post this to MotherTalkers too.

    Black by popular demand!

    by fabooj on Fri Feb 09, 2007 at 03:37:23 PM PST


    Take these issues to your local school board.  Talk to your bus driver.  But don't let posting comments be your last action.

    Share them with friends and family.

    These unbelievable issues are not likely to be resolved on these postings alone.

    Take action!

  •  How About Safety For TEAMSTERS? (0+ / 0-)

    Teamsterpower-- how about safety for Teamsters?

    How about safety for our future?

    You talk about all these great things, which SOUND GOOD, but it's a all just a bunch of words-- p.r. smoke and mirrors.

    In reality, Teamsters in Local Union 85 in San Francisco are working under contracts they are not allowed to vote on, and must accept. They are allowed NO SAY in their wages, working conditions, health and welfare, pensions, etc., etc.

    Many life long Teamsters there are living under the poverty level. Unable to achieve the 60 hours of work per MONTH to qualify for their health benefits. Forced to ask their Local Union officials to allow them to join the San Francisco Food Bank just to feed their families and to survive.

    It's all fine and dandy that you and others in the Communications Department are worried about school bus safety-- we applaud you for that. But how come each and every time a member of our local union contacts our leadership about OUR SAFETY we are ignored, and get no answers or solutions?

    Recently a 17 year Teamster named Henry Hall DIED because he couldn't get enough hours for his health benefits, and couldn't afford his medication. How many more Teamsters are going to have to die before you focus on OUR SAFETY?

    IBT-- you should be ashamed of yourselves! You have BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS!

    •  Off topic (0+ / 0-)

      I gathered from your email that you already working with reps from the IBT in resolving your issues. Spamming posts with your off-topic remarks is no way to speed the process or have a positive effect on your cause.

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