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Utica Birnie Bus workers seek union to improve safety

Bus drivers and monitors who drive children attending Utica city schools have filed with the
National Labor Relations Board requesting they be recognized as a part of the union CSEA.

The workers began their effort to join CSEA after their safety concerns and staffing concerns had gone unaddressed. Earlier this year, a group of parents contacted the Observer-Dispatch to report that they are fed up with the rampant mismanagement which is putting their children at risk.

Birnie Bus recently changed hands and is now owned by The Krapf Group but retained the
familiar Birnie name. They were awarded a $9M contract with the Utica City School District for three years, at an increase of $1M from when the contract was originally negotiated.

The workers hoped that the new company would bring needed changes but that fizzled as
parents and workers realized their voices were not being heard.

As school bus workers, the Utica drivers and monitors know that when they join together they have the power to make a difference. They understand the connection between labor and safety and what that means for the safe transportation of Utica’s children, which is of utmost importance. Joining together as a union for a seat at the table harnesses that power so they can have a say— not just the company’s bottom-line calling the shots.

Trainer Gary Zayas and Maria Felix, both drivers, address the need for a seat at the table as a

Unionized workers in the same job make on average 27 percent more and receive generous
benefits packages. They enjoy far less turnover due to better working conditions and thus
greater safety for the precious cargo they carry.

CSEA already represents tens of thousands of school bus workers. Kenny Greenleaf, CSEA
Central Region President, whose Region includes Utica knows first-hand as a school district
employee how valuable it is to have a union.

“In my experience over the years, union-represented employees are able to negotiate better wages and benefits. I feel employees are treated with more respect when they have a union. It gives them the opportunity to sit at the table with management and collectively work on solutions. This boost in morale is good for the students, staff, and community when everyone is working collaboratively,” said Greenleaf.

Workers approached Birnie Bus management giving them the opportunity to voluntarily
recognize the union and they refused. The next step is to prepare for a union election for the 243 member group.

Parent Jasna Ferkic expresses frustration with Birnie Bus company and pledges support to the workers in joining CSEA.

“We are anticipating push-back but we’ve been through this before. We are stronger now than we have ever been. We are ready. We are committed and we are united. We know a union is what we need to make a big difference for us and our community,” said Bus Driver Gary Zayas. “We can come to the table as equals to be heard. We can negotiate better for us and safer for the children. We have the power with a union to make changes that will ease parents’ minds and ensure a better Birnie Bus for us all.”

A group of more than 50 parents, drivers, monitors and local labor leaders pledge support for
the Birnie Bus union campaign to join CSEA. Mary
E. Sullivan, CSEA Executive Vice President
welcomes the workers with open arms and pledges union resources to fight as hard as need be.

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