Roanoke Peoples’ Power Network provides this coverage on the recent picketing by ATU Local 1493 union members and supporters as they fight for living wages and benefits
Across the street from a brand new $17.3 million bus terminal stands a row of picketing bus workers of the ATU Local 1493. Above them is a banner that reads, “Workers Produce All Wealth“. The grandson of a bus operator stands amongst the picket and shouts the slogan, “New contract, fair pay, workers must decide our fate!”.
Roanoke People’s Power Network interviewed Executive Board Member of ATU 1493 and bus operator, JJ Richards, for his thoughts on the current situation.
“Workers are picketing to try to get the company to come back to the table after stalling for over five months,” Richards said.
Under the current contract, starting pay sits at $14.96 an hour, a measly $3 more than the current minimum wage in Virginia. Bus operators must procure a CDL, pass a drug screening, and commit to multiple long shifts. The ATU includes everyone from the bus drivers themselves to the mechanics that keep the buses moving to the janitorial staff that clean the buses. The union is asking for a starting pay of $17.20 an hour, settling to $20.70 an hour within three years.
“We’re at a deficit of 25 operators and they have not been able to hire any operators in the last two years due to starting wage,” explained Richards
Currently, bus operators in Roanoke have zero sick days. Throughout the whole of the pandemic, bus operators here have been forced to utilize their inadequate PDO (Paid Days Off) to spend time away from work to recover. To make matters worse, the company split the workforce in two, a common tactic of companies wanting to produce friction between workers.
“If you were hired before 2014 you get more PDOs than someone hired after 2014.”
The workers were tired of waiting, and decided on a course of direct action. Under their extended contract, they were not permitted to conduct a strike, and instead a picket was devised to pressure the company to enter negotiations. In utilizing direct action, the union has proved to its members their own strength. This has led to solidarity amongst even non-union workers.
“We’ve had, actually non-union members, plus all union members out picketing over – trying to get back to the table, because all of us agree that we definitely need more money.”
Workers previously ambivalent to the union have decided to join.
“Actually had one sign up yesterday… Since we started this, we’ve actually picked up four new members.”
Within days of announcing the picket, Richards received word that the company was finally ready to sit down and talk with them. This is a reminder to union leaders and workers alike, that direct action is possible, popular, and effective as a means to achieving working class goals in their workplaces.
“I think our picket is actually getting to them – they’ve been reaching out and trying to square some dates away. We just gotta get it… get it done. If it’s gonna take more in the future, then more will happen.”