The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Los Angeles school bus drivers on strike

Apr 15, 2002

Seven hundred Los Angeles school bus drivers went on strike on April 2. The striking drivers are employed by Laidlaw Education Services, which is the Los Angeles Unified School District’s largest contractor, covering about one-third of the district’s 2200 bus routes.

Laidlaw has ignored the drivers’ demands for better wages and health and retirement benefits since last August, when negotiations for a new contract began. The company pays drivers between $8 and $15 while the district pays between $15 and $22 to the drivers it directly employs. The Laidlaw drivers want to reduce the difference.

School district officials have called themselves “innocent bystanders” in this strike, but nothing could be further from the truth. They are the ones who contract out more than half of the district’s bus routes to six private companies – supposedly to cut costs. Of course Laidlaw makes a tidy profit off the top of this contract – not to maintain high salaries and all sorts of “expenses” for executives, etc. And this figures into costs.

As soon as the strike began, the district started to use its own supervisors and drivers from other contractor companies to cover the routes on strike. These drivers make extra trips every morning and afternoon to pick up students. So there are long waiting times for many students who miss their early morning classes and get home late after school. Hardest hit are students from working class neighborhoods who are the ones most often bussed because of school overcrowding and whose parents often can’t give them rides to school. Obviously, the district isn’t terribly worried about these students.

The district’s efforts to break the strike are no doubt aided by the fact that the workers at Laidlaw are working under a different contract than those at the other contractor companies – even though they’re all members of the same union, Teamsters 572.

Local officers have been telling the other drivers it would be illegal for them to join the strike. As for the other unions that represent the school district’s own bus drivers, they made statements criticizing the strike, thus encouraging their members to cross picket lines.

With friends like these union officials, the striking drivers certainly don’t need many more enemies.

But other workers have ignored such statements before. When you want to fight, you don’t have to accept advice which weakens your fight.