The Crimson Ride bus drivers are an irreplaceable part of The University of Alabama’s operations. These white and red buses can’t be missed and are a staple on campus. Without the drivers, students would not have the regular transportation they depend on to get around campus.
Crimson Ride drivers are employed by First Transit, a transportation contract and management service. According to its website, First Transit operates in 39 states and Canada. It offers services to hospitals, private companies and universities. The University is currently in a contract with First Transit.
While the drivers’ and their role at the University is indispensable, there are some who see the treatment of the drivers by First Transit as anything but. A campaign by the student labor group, Students for Fair Labor (SFL), aims to seek better treatment for campus bus drivers.
In an effort to fight for better treatment for Crimson Ride bus drivers, members of SFL drafted and delivered a demand letter to the office of the University President Stuart R. Bell on April 3.
It is mentioned in the SFL letter that many drivers have stepped up to address their poor treatment from First Transit. The drivers in the letter are not mentioned by name.
One of the drivers, mentioned in the SFL letter, learned that exhaust fumes from her malfunctioning bus gave her lung damage.
“They have a point system,” Ariel Jones, a sophomore anthropology major and SFL member said.
This refers to First Transit’s point system for bus drivers. The system aims to penalize workers for missed shifts.
The aforementioned driver was allegedly punished for taking an ambulance and going to the hospital before her shift finished.
“If people needed to take off for medical reasons, then they were being penalized for taking off,” Jones said.
Amber Chan, a junior geography major and president of SFL, said the bus drivers reached out to SFL.
“We wouldn’t do this action on their behalf unless they asked,” Chan said. “Basically they want fair wages, a fairer overtime policy, health benefits and backpay.”
Chan said the bus drivers have very reasonable demands.
Another driver mentioned in the letter is the sole caretaker of his grandmother, who fell into a diabetic coma. The driver said he was threatened to be fired by First Transit if he did not make his shifts.
“He worked for two weeks while his grandmother was in the hospital,” the SFL letter said. “All the while, he was unsure of his grandmother’s condition and was unable to provide care for her.”
According to Chan, Bell responded to SFL’s letter in an email on the morning of April 9.
“We have made First Transit aware of the concerns outlined in your letter, and we have reaffirmed that fair treatment of local staff is vital to our continued trustful partnership,” Bell said in an email.
The letter demanded that Bell’s office respond by Friday, April 12.
Bell’s response mentions that First Transit, a third party company, has had a contract with the University since 2007.
“We know contract negotiations between First Transit and its employees are currently underway, and are ongoing,” Bell’s response said. “The University of Alabama is not involved in the collective bargaining process and does not take part in the labor negotiations between a third-party contractor and its employees. However, leaders at UA Transportation are committed to reporting any unfair or unlawful labor practices made known to them.”
In the letter, Bell said First Transit is now aware of the concerns outlined in the SFL letter.
“Bell’s response is definitely not adequate,” Chan said. “As he stated in the letter, the school has a mutual partnership with First Transit that assumes the fair treatment of Crimson Ride bus drivers. However, as exemplified by the drivers’ testimonies, First Transit is a company that has no regard for the health and wellbeing of their workers.”
Chan said that the University’s Transportation Services has not reached out with an update as of yet.
“The next step in our escalation plan is to have a banner drop on the quad during A-Day.”
As part of their A-Day plans, SFL will be on the Quad with their banner, handing out flyers and talking about the organization and its campaigns.
“Students for Fair Labor are prepared to further escalate the situation if nothing happens, but only if the bus drivers think that we can be impactful,” Chan said.