Headline News

Crestwood Bus Workers to Decide on Union Representation

By Mike Nolan
Originally Appeared in the Southtown Star on September 27, 2012 

On Thursday, union members in black T-shirts reading “The wheels on the bus go union now” took part in what the Teamsters termed a “Rally for Respect.” Held outside Crestwood’s Standard Bank Stadium, at 140th Street and Kenton Avenue, the gathering was within sight of Alpha School Bus Co.’s offices, which have been a target of the union’s organizing campaign.

On Friday, about 270 employees at Alpha, which transports special-needs students around the Southland, will vote on whether to have the Teamsters represent them in negotiations.

The rally was the latest installment of a rancorous relationship between Local 777 of the Teamsters and Cook-Illinois Corp., the Oak Forest company that owns Alpha and several other bus lines in the Chicago area, including Illinois School Bus and Kickert.

During the event, a driver bemoaned a wage she said wasn’t sufficient to support a family, while James Glimco, president of Local 777, described Alpha workers as “an inspiration” to other school bus company employees around the country.

After the speeches, union members fired up a barbecue grill that was flanked by loudspeakers pumping out music.

In 2006, the Teamsters launched a massive nationwide organizing campaign aimed at school bus operators, including First Student, one of the country’s biggest bus companies. The Teamsters said the effort, called “Drive Up Standards,” so far has resulted in 35,000 drivers, mechanics and other employees joining the union.

The union has waged a high-pressure campaign against Cook-Illinois, which went so far as to sue Glimco’s local in federal court.

In June, Teamsters protested in California near a Napa Valley vineyard owned by John Benish Sr., founder and chief executive of Cook-Illinois. The union also is backing a website, www.eyeoncook.com, that details employee complaints about the firm’s subsidiaries.

The company late last year sued Local 777, alleging the union and Glimco had conspired to “commit extortionate activities … in the guise of a labor organizing campaign,” and also accused union leadership of violating the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a law that’s been used to prosecute corrupt politicians and gang members. In May, a federal judge dismissed the complaint, noting the company had failed to make its case, but left open the option for Cook-Illinois to amend the complaint.

On Thursday, Glimco portrayed Alpha as “one of the lowest wage and benefit operations” in the southern region of the Chicago area, while Cook-Illinois, in a statement, maintained that Alpha employees enjoy benefits that are “highly competitive,” while drivers and aides receive annual wage increases that “are higher than the national average.”

The company said that workers — who never have worked under a union contract — now are represented by their own in-house union, called the Executive Board, and that Cook-Illinois has “negotiated in good faith” with that group in an effort to reach a contract, offering “highly competitive” wage hikes.

“We have always believed it was important to compensate our employees fairly and competitively,” the statement reads. “We have also valued our employees’ contributions and efforts while always respecting their rights under the law.”