While those opposing the rights of workers to organize want to promote the canard that it is all about money, one of the most important issues workers mention as a reason to organize is safety. A union contract creates enforceable rules to ensure that workers return home to their families after the work day.
Without that protection it is easy for workers like the accused charter bus driver in the 2012 New Jersey crash to be made a scapegoat for an industry that has become “sweatshops on wheels,” says the Amalgamated Transit Union in reaction to the courtroom testimony of a police officer who said the driver had been on duty for more than the regulated 15 hours in the 24-hour period before the accident.
“Bus drivers have become the scapegoats for accidents caused by these sweatshops on wheels,” says Larry Hanley, international president of ATU, which represents workers at Greyhound and other U.S. and Canadian intercity bus companies.
“The real criminals are the politicians, federal agencies and industry groups who continue to turn a blind eye to the carnage on our highways caused by a lack of overtime regulations and abuse of drivers, who are forced to work more than 15 hour days just to make ends meet.”
In the U.S., intercity bus operators are exempt from the overtime provisions of Fair Labor Standards Act, which encourages businesses to overwork their low-wage drivers who are forced to take second jobs during their “rest periods” just to provide for their families.
The driver in the New Jersey accident worked for two different bus companies the day of the accident, exceeding the 15 total hours allowed by law. He finished a trip for Canada Cartage and then immediately did an overnight run for AVM Max 2000 Charter Services Inc. when the crash occurred early that morning, injuring 23 people. Bus drivers working two jobs to make ends meet has been a longstanding problem in the industry as a FOX-NYC TV story shows.
In addition, a 2012 National Transportation Safety Board report on safety in the industry revealed that drivers holding multiple jobs to earn an adequate income is a serious factor contributing to fatigue on the job. The report, informed by focus groups of drivers, federal safety investigators and state motor carrier inspectors, found drivers had “problems with getting sufficient sleep, pressure from companies to drive longer than permitted, and fears of motor carriers giving them less work if they turned down a driving job.
“Is working a 15-hour day not enough to earn a living?,” asks Hanley. “It’s time for the government to extend protections to bus drivers so they are fairly compensated for overtime, especially in a safety sensitive industry. Bus passengers and drivers on our highways have a right to expect that over-the-road bus companies pay their employees fair, livable wages that, in effect, won’t threaten the safety of everyone on the road,” said Hanley.
Standing in the way of passenger safety is the American Bus Association that claims that the FLSA overtime exemption for intercity motor coach operators prevents their drivers from pressuring them to work an unsafe number of hours. “The ABA would have you believe,” Hanley counters, “that if intercity motorcoach operators were required to pay overtime, they would succumb to pressure from drivers who want to work an unsafe number of hours. That simply makes no sense, whatsoever.”
ATU supports the Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sponsored Driver Fatigue Prevention Act, which would ensure that drivers are paid fairly for the work they put in above 40 hours per week, making them less inclined to work other jobs, while discouraging intercity motor coach operators from pushing their employees beyond the limits of human endurance.