Most students use or have used Crimson Ride. The UA bus system and our indispensable bus drivers are a vital component of campus life, student satisfaction and recruitment. Unfortunately, while we as students enjoy the luxury of convenience like bus routes that go to our apartment complexes or an effortless ride from a long night out, the people who drive our buses are operating under inexcusable labor conditions. It has come to light that bus operators on this campus have been egregiously underpaid since 2017 and are being forced by their employer, First Transit, to violate federal regulations to make ends meet. These people are mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles and so on – they are our community here at the University and in Tuscaloosa. We are told by the University that this is the place where legends are made, but meanwhile, its own employees, Crimson Ride bus operators, are underpaid and dehumanized.
Many employees have met with Students for Fair Labor, a student-labor solidarity group on campus, to address these serious concerns. Operators told the group they are frequently required to work shifts longer than the federally-mandated 10-hour maximum, and adequate breaks to recuperate mental and physical stamina are not provided. On top of that, they are often forced to work as much as 12-16 hours a day to earn a decent wage to support their families due to their low hourly pay rate. These lengthy work hours are in violation of federal work regulations.
First Transit has consistently shown that the health and personal well-being of its workers is not a priority for their company. Workers operate under a point system, where occasions of tardiness or missed shifts receive point infractions. Bus operators have been punished with points for going to the doctor for serious, sometimes life-threatening conditions, even with an advanced notice of their absence. After fainting on the job and being rushed to the hospital, one bus driver discovered that exhaust fumes from the malfunctioning bus she drove had given her lung damage. In addition to the medical bills she incurred from the hospital care and ambulance ride, First Transit gave her points for leaving before her shift was finished. Another worker said, out of fear of being fired, he delayed going to the hospital for multiple weeks, and when he finally went, he discovered his blood pressure was so high that doctors were “surprised he was able to walk into the hospital at all.”
Until this year, First Transit did not have a time clock for its employees to use. Supervisors were responsible for creating time card records, and drivers frequently noticed discrepancies between the hours they worked and the paychecks they received, which is wage theft. If drivers worked until around 7:30 p.m. and told their supervisors they wanted to clock out, it was not uncommon for their supervisor to simply clock them out at 7 p.m. – denying them 30 minutes of work pay.
Moreover, while trying to organize to demand better wages, a fair overtime policy, health benefits and backpay, First Transit allegedly used intimidation tactics to scare bus drivers away from affiliating with a union. Unions are crucial organizations that build job security, enforce fair treatment, and above all else, help create a dignified life for workers and their families. Facing so many barriers to organizing from First Transit exemplifies the unjust working conditions these bus operators have been subjected to. These hardworking bus drivers are dedicated to us as students and their jobs, but they do not even get a retirement plan.
Crimson Ride bus drivers are not only part of the University’s growing family but are essential to the Tuscaloosa community, whom we as students take for granted all too often. The University, as the largest employer in Tuscaloosa, has a responsibility to no longer be complicit in these flagrant labor violations and must take action now to stop it from continuing. As students, we must hold the University accountable and demand they correct these infractions our fellow UA and Tuscaloosa community members have been affected by.