Anti-union charges fought with solidarityby Nick Giannone
At his arraignment in July, over 150 supporters of Boston school bus drivers’ union leader, Steve Kirschbaum, rallied outside the Dorchester District Court to demand that charges against him be dropped and to call for an end to union busting by Veolia Transportation Inc. and city officials. The crowd of bus drivers, labor and community supporters, current and former city councilors, and other allies filled the courtroom and the sidewalk in a powerful display of solidarity. Supporters are expected to return on Monday for Kirschbaum's next court date.
Kirschbaum, chair of the grievance committee of USW Local 8751, faces charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, breaking and entering during the daytime, malicious destruction of property over $250, and trespassing follow the union’s Solidarity Day rally at the Freeport St. bus yard in Dorchester on June 30th. Towards the end of that rally union members and supporters marched through the yard to the bus drivers’ dispatch building for a meeting to discuss their contract which was set to expire at midnight.
Boston Police and Veolia claim union members broke through locked doors and that Kirschbaum shoved a table at a manager as the crowd entered the building (I was at the front of the march and recall that the doors were wide open and we entered without incident). According to the contract, union leaders have unrestricted access to the bus yards and members have a right to call meetings at any time. Police on the scene saw no reason to make any arrests but 3 days later detectives served a court summons to Kirschbaum’s daughter while he was at the Boston Teachers Union in contract negotiations with Veolia.
Veolia signed an agreement to honor USW 8751’s contract in June 2013 but immediately began to violate articles regarding wages, benefits, working conditions, as well as the grievance and arbitration procedures. These tactics have been used by Veolia in other cities where they low-bid city management contracts then attempt to force concessions and cutbacks. Adding insult to injury, on October 7th Veolia attempted to force the bus drivers to reapply for their jobs. This occurred during the federal government shutdown leaving the drivers with no redress available.
The next morning the bus drivers showed up for work and demanded a meeting with Veolia to discuss violations of the contract. Management refused and at 11:00 a.m. the bus drivers were evicted from company property under threat of arrest for trespassing. This lockout was mischaracterized as an illegal wildcat strike in the local media and by outgoing Mayor Tom Menino. Following this lockout Kirschbaum and 3 other union officers, Steve Gillis, Andre Francois and Garry Murchison, were fired. Since then USW 8751 has organized 3 large Solidarity Day rallies to demand reinstatement for the fired union leaders, the most recent being the June 30th rally that led to the charges Kirschbaum now faces.
In addition to the false portrayal of the October 8th lockout as an illegal wildcat strike there has been red-baiting of the union as both Kirschbaum and Gillis are members of Workers World Party. This attempt to isolate the leaders from the rest of the bus drivers hasn't worked and, if anything, Kirschbaum’s and Gillis’ political work and affiliation has won them many allies that unions with a narrower focus might not have. (I’ll also add that while speaking at the most recent Solidarity Day rally I was interrupted by loud applause upon announcing my membership in the CPUSA).
USW 8751 Boston School Bus Drivers has a 40 year history going back to the founding of the local during Boston’s school desegregation struggle, a time when it was not uncommon for drivers and children to face attacks from violent racist mobs. Since then they have fought hard and won a contract that is the envy of the industry- a contract that Veolia wants to shred. But in addition to fighting hard for their members this union has consistently stood on the right side of every struggle for social justice in Boston and around the world. An example of this is the union’s efforts to expose Veolia’s role in running bus lines that serve Israeli settlers, but not Palestinians, in the occupied West Bank.
At the arraignment on July 14th the judge refused a request by Veolia to issue a restraining order that would bar Kirschbaum from entering the bus yards. His defense attorney, Barry P. Wilson, called the charges “frivolous” and described dispute as a labor issue that does not belong in court. Steve Kirschbaum pleaded not guilty to the charges, was released without bail and is scheduled to appear again in court this Monday September 15th to argue a defense motion to dismiss and remand the case to the clerk magistrate. Expect a crowd.