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Striking ART Bus Drivers Fired, County Reacts

by ARLnow.com June 23, 2011 at 9:25 am 3,663 71 Comments

County transit contractor Forsythe Transportation has fired 35 ART bus drivers who went on strike to protest alleged sexual harassment and other grievances.

In a statement, Forsythe said the drivers were fired for violating a clause in their contract that prevented them from striking unless the company violated terms of an arbitration.

“We knew that this could happen, but we were surprised by the number of terminations,” Arlington County Transit Bureau Chief Stephen Del Giudice told ARLnow.com. “It’s a regrettable situation all the way around… It’s regrettable that drivers took the job action, and its regrettable that Forsythe felt the need to terminate the employees.”

Del Giudice said that the county was “not a party to the contract between Forsythe and its drivers” and therefore was limited in terms of what it could do to help resolve the conflict.

“It would be inappropriate for us to interfere in their labor relations,” he said.

The initial service disruption caused by the sudden strike last Monday was quickly resolved as Forsythe managers stepped in to handle the routes of striking drivers. The company then went on a hiring spree to fill the bus driver positions left vacant by the strike. Full service was restored by Friday, Del Giudice said.

One of the new drivers was involved in a minor accident yesterday, but Del Giudice said that the new hires are all licensed and experienced bus drivers who have been drug tested and “given training in Forsythe’s operating procedures and our [ART] routes.”

“We’re going to continue to insist on Forsythe providing the highest standard of safe and reliable service for our customers,” Del Giudice said.

  • ART Lover

    Must have been one of the new drivers who started his 5 pm run from Courthouse early yesterday – leaving several County employees behind.

  • BerryBerryCold

    “It would be inappropriate for us to interfere in their labor relations,” he said.

    At least someone in the County government has their head screwed on right.

    • Josh S

      Yes, perhaps inappropriate to interfere. If I hire a contractor to do work on my house, I can’t interfere if they fire some of their workers. But I can certainly choose to contract with someone else if I feel that their management treats their employees poorly.

      • Clarendon Resident

        +100

      • madisonmanor

        Yes, you can choose to contract with someone else – you just might be paying two contractors while only one of them is actually performing work for you unless you specifically included third party worker treatment as a valid condition of the contract you signed. I haven’t seen/heard any real details (other than speculation from Arlnow readers) about the terms & conditions of Forsythe’s contract with the county to know if this is a viable option. Unless they violated specific conditions, you can’t breach the contract without some sort of penalty.

        • Josh S

          You’re absolutely right. The county may be stuck with these suckers for some time. It seems unlikely that, based on what (little) we know, this would be cause for voiding the contract….

          • El Guest-o

            And why would you want to void it? The employees weren’t entitled to strike, they did, they got fired. Seems like an entirely appropriate action by the company.

          • John Fontain

            To some, union employees never do wrong and are always the victims regardless of the facts.

    • doodly

      What if they were hiring illegals?

      • Deeman804

        …but they weren’t, carry-on

  • soarlslacker

    The quotes of Arlington County Transit Bureau Chief Stephen Del Giudice: “It would be inappropriate for us to interfere in their labor relations,” and “We’re going to continue to insist on Forsythe providing the highest standard of safe and reliable service for our customers,” are interesting. They sound a little reminiscent of Metro’s attitude–it is ok if we hurt/kill our own employees, as long as we don’t hurt/kill customers.
    Arlington County has a responsibility to insure that the employees of the county’s contractors are treated fairly. High minded, we win all the awards Arlington County does not appear to be so high minded here. Chris Zimmerman’s statements on the issue on behalf of the County Board indicate that the grievances should be taken seriously. http://www.arlnow.com/2011/06/16/board-art-labor-dispute-must-be-resolved/
    Well the drivers were fired. Is that serious enough for the Arlington County Board?
    Can the NLRB read? It is starting to smell a tiny bit like Boeing around here.

    • Patrick

      Are you suggesting that what the NLRB is attempting to do to Boeing is appropriate?

      • soarlslacker

        I am suggesting that Boeing executives made public statements to the Seattle Times that were video taped that caused the NLRB to take an interest in the case. The NLRB thinks that a violation occurred. Just as prosecutors don’t file charges in cases that they do not think they can win, the NLRB does not bring a case that they don’t think they can win. If nothing else, the Boeing case might result in fine tuning of the rules which would be to everyone’s benefit. Jim Albaugh, executive vice president of The Boeing Company and president and chief executive officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, should know when to stop talking. He said Boeing put the 2nd 787 assembly facility in SC to avoid work stoppages (aka strikes).
        http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/26/opinion/26tue2.html
        http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/ABPub/2011/05/04/2014962963.pdf
        http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2011237525_albaughvideo.html
        http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/2012034258_boeing05.html
        I am thrilled there are more highly skilled jobs in the Charleston, SC area. Since the Naval Base closure there in1996 there has been paucity of positions for highly skilled labor in the Charleston area.
        Appropriate is a matter of opinion and everyone’s opinion differs. That is why legal cases are based on law, not appropriateness.

      • John Andre

        Actually Boeing may not be subject to state right-to-work laws in South Carolina due to its involvement in interstate commerce, and must unionize even in the Palmetto State per the U.S. Constitution. After all Giant and Safeway must unionize here despite Virginia right-to-work laws since they operate in D.C., etc. where no right-to-work law exists.

        IMO “right-to-work” is little more than an excuse for promoting sweatshop conditions via union-busting. This is true because BNA and similar publishers offer courses and seminars to management on how to fight off organized labor, stall collective bargaining, and even how to thwart an NLRB sanctioned election.

        • doodly

          A right-to-work law has nothing to do with the right of workers to unionize. Except for state workers, most workers have a right to unionize by federal law, i.e. in all states.

          A right-to-work law simply says that a union contract cannot require all employees to join the union in order to keep their job.

      • John Andre

        “Right-to-work” law stops at the state boundary. Since there’s no national right-to-work law, any entity involved in interstate commerce [including Boeing!] MUST unionize in all shops if the union nationwide wins an NLRB election.

        Example here: Giant and Safeway unionize here in Virginia because they are involved in interstate commerce. So must Harris Teeter also unionize [though based in right-to-work North Carolina] if the UFCW wins an NLRB election. Remember, the Wagner Act, as amended by the Taft-Hartley Act, allows right-to-work at the state level, but not at the national level. Right-to-work means that states may forbid union shops so long as an entity [e.g. ART] operates within state boundaries. It does not forbid the holding of an NLRB election to organize an entity.

  • JimPB

    All of the drivers are said to be experienced. Two observations yesterday afternoon here in North Arlington challenge that assertion. One was of a ART bus that didn’t make an easy turn onto Yorktown, but to stop and back up in order to complete the turn. The second observation further down Yorktown was of another ART bus at a stop that, in spite of a clear lane next to the curb, had its rear end well into the traffic lane.

    • JammingEcono

      FWIW, my ART 87 bus this morning definitely had a newbie driver who was unfamiliar with the route. Despite the presence of 2 Forsythe minders standing next to her, she still missed 2 stops on Army-Navy Drive on the way to the Pentagon.

      • JJDRP

        New driver in training on the ART 75 this morning as well. He did not miss any stops, but he made a few abrupt braking maneuvers.

    • Tabby

      In an earlier discussion, we talked about the ART drivers complaining that they don’t earn as much as Metrobus drivers. Well, I can see myself being able to handle a wittle ART bus. But a Metrobus? No thank you.

  • TGEoA

    Move to a non right to work state. K bye!

    • soarlslacker

      Moving away from a problem to avoid it is a coward’s way out. Real people fight a problem not run away from it. Where did you run away from to land here?

      • TGEoA

        Did you know that Pinkerton is still in business? I love me some union busting.

        • soarlslacker

          To bust a union you would have to stand up for your beliefs–actually do something, not run away from a situation with which you disagree. But since you invoke the Pinkertons, perhaps you would prefer to rely on others to fight your battles. Blackwater is still in business as Xe, maybe you can join. I understand that NC is also a right to work state. You could bust some unions there.

          • TGEoA

            I do stand up for my beliefs. I go out of my way to cross a picket line.

          • Sinclair Lewis

            Thanks for helping to destroy the American middle class.

          • TGEoA

            Thank the unions for helping to push jobs overseas.

          • Ian Luria

            The vast majority of America’s middle class isn’t in unions.

          • Josh S

            Unions responsible for jobs going overseas? I guess this is why all those jobs have been coming back in the last few decades as union membership continues to fall steadily.

            Union membership peaked in the 1950s and has been falling ever since. When did the jobs start going overseas? The 1970s? I don’t see a correlation.

            Even today, median weekly wages for non-union workers are roughly $700. I’m gonna guess that Chinese workers average that in a month? With Vietnamese, Thai, etc workers making even less. Wages are much cheaper overseas, regardless of the existence of unions in the United States. Jobs went overseas because improvements in transportation and communication made it possible. Not because of unions. In the meantime, unions in the United States pay their workers more, and have, over the years, negotiated employee benefits that became standard for all workers, some even being made into law.

          • doodly

            So TGEoA, now you’re excusing corporations for running away from the problem by moving overseas for cheap labor.

          • PghBigDog

            Sid Hatfield, Sherrif of Matewan, WV stood up to the Pinkerton pigs. Wish somebody had that kind of backbone around here.

        • John Andre

          Union busting means the right to operate a sweatshop.

        • John Andre

          Yes, though I doubt Pinkerton resorts to its 19th-century tactics today.

          All the right wing ever does is raise prices and cut Social Security, Medicare, etc. [via resorting to that specious “national debt” argument].

    • Josh S

      I believe the proper usage is
      k thx bye!

      FWIW

  • JammingEcono

    Sounds like Zimmerman could be considering an investigation of situation.

    Quote: When asked if Arlington County would initiate an independent investigation, Zimmerman said Wednesday that was “a reasonable thing to suggest.”

    “I have a lot of questions,” Zimmerman said. “I’ve given quite a few of them to the (county) manager today.”

    Source: http://clarendon.patch.com/articles/breaking-forsythe-fires-35-arlington-bus-drivers

    At the very least, how Forsythe handles worker complaints, etc. should be part of the discussions around the renewal (or not) of the company’s contract with the county.

    • BerryBerryCold

      Is it even possible for the county to have an “independent” investigation on any issue?

    • John Fontain

      Is Zimmerman supposed to be looking out for the interests of the Arlington County citizens who use ART bus service or for employees of a private company the County hires to provide bus service? Sounds like he is more interested in looking out for these employees’ interests than those of the constituents he was elected to represent.

      • Josh S

        A) you assume the bus drivers aren’t county residents
        B) it’s fairly easy to see how such an investigation would benefit residents as a whole – the investigation would be looking to see if the reality fell outside of standards resulting from the law (or the contract). So, it would be part of enforcing the law. Generally, citizens benefit when laws are enforced. (Assuming the laws are just. And Constitutional. Which not all laws are. But just for the case of making a general argument, we make that assumption.)

        • John Fontain

          With regard to “A”, no, I didn’t.

          With regard to “B”, does the County Board have legal jurisdiction over labor law?

  • John Fontain

    I applaud Forsythe management for taking quick action against these individuals who chose not to follow agreed upon complaint resolution procedures and instead created unnecessary hardships for the many customers whose fares pay their paychecks.

    In this day and age, there don’t appear to be many who are willing to stand up for what is right against the oft-self serving unions. Hopefully these terminations will send a strong message to the remaining workers that their job exists for the purpose of serving customers, not for the purpose of providing them with a job and paycheck.

    And I hope Arlington County understands that Forsythe’s management’s decision demonstrates just how much it prioritizes the needs of the Arlington citizens it serves. Believe me, it would have been far easier to bend over for the union and let customer service suffer in the striking incident and beyond. Stephen Del Giudice should call and thank Forsythe management for their actions.

    • Tabby

      Can I touch your butt?

    • BoredHouseWife

      or there were “terms” in that “arbitration” clause of that contract that are not legal. Just because a company writes up a contract and you sign it does not mean it is a legal contract. The contract must be legal within the law for it to be a valid and enforceable contract.

      if there was discrimination, that should be judged by the law not some company that will side with the corporation that pays them.

      • John Fontain

        Why assume a contract’s terms were illegal unless you have a reason to believe it so? And why would the union sign the contract in the first place if this were the case?

        This is a simple case of the employees putting their greedy self interests first and the customer last. As a result, they were fired. As it should be.

        • Josh S

          The beauty of living in a “simple” world. Ignorance is bliss. Oh, to be sixteen again……sigh…..

          • John Fontain

            Unsubstantiated generalities come from those with nothing of substance to support their position.

      • hmmm

        Unions have plenty of lawyers that would look over something as crucial as their member’s employee contract…I seriously doubt the terms were illegal. And processes for handling grievances (such as requiring arbitration) are commonplace in any contract.

    • Ian Luria

      Thank you John, I agree.

    • doodly

      Your blatant anti-union bias is showing.

      Unions are often self-serving, yes – like everyone. You me, and Forsythe too. Workers should not be required to sacrifice more than anyone else for the common good.

  • hmmm

    If what Forsythe said is true and “the drivers were fired for violating a clause in their contract that prevented them from striking unless the company violated terms of an arbitration.”, which does sound like the case based on Del Giudice’s statement, then the drivers deserved to be fired. If you want to benefit from the terms negotiated in the union contract, then you have to abide by your obligations in those agreed upon terms. By going on strike and not following the process that their union agreed to for filing grievances, they essentially abandoned their jobs by not showing up for work. Seems straight forward to me. As evident by Forsythe’s ability to quickly fill the jobs, obviously there are people willing to do the work if the current employees weren’t.

    • Grope Me

      If the drivers violated their agreement by striking, then they can be fired. If Forsythe has fired them to not address real sexual harrassment occuring in the workplace, then they should be sued.

      • Ian Luria

        I agree

      • PghBigDog

        I agree also. Herr Fountain (et al) is ** completely ** out to lunch (and showing his bourgeois background) with references to greedy self-interests, etc. Seems like he/she can’t take the time to read the article as written and instead chooses to do some good old fashioned upper-crust union bashing, though if a union wasn’t involved he/she might have taken the same opportunity to jump on the immigrant bashing bandwagon. Sounds to me like the employees had a valid grievance that (perhaps) was not being addressed by management. Is not sexual harassment a crime? Offhand, I’d say that this issue is far from over.
        May you sir have a boss who one day makes your job contingent on taking it in the end (sic).

        Just for the record though, unions made the 40 hour workweek a reality. They also made holidays, vacation, sick time, raises, and employer-provided health insurance a reality, so if you’re so much against unions, please, by all means feel free to work on Saturdays and oh… don’t forget to come in on 04Jul.

        • JammingEcono

          Game. Set. Match. PghBigDog.

        • Metro Rider

          Um, no. The union negotiated its own method for expressing grievances. It then violated the terms of that agreement. Therefore the union members were fire-able. Your torches- and-pitchforks populist rantings notwithstanding, they simply were not entitled to strike under the terms of the CBA they, and their many lawyers, negotiated.

          Get over it.

  • GreaterClarendon

    I’m glad to see there are some pro-business views in Arlington. This is not a county issue, this is an employee and employer issue – let them handle it themselves. If public servcie suffers because of their decision, then replace them. If they weed out bad employees and keep their profits and good public service – good for them. Government does not need to be involve itself in all aspects of county life.

    • soarlslacker

      I find it unfortunate that Arlington County employees are not required to live in Arlington County. If they were required to live in the county, perhaps they would actually care and do something about some of on nagging little problems residents encounter on a daily basis.

      • Reality check

        Bus drivers likely don’t make enough money to live and raise a family in Arlington County.

        • doodly

          I think that’s an exaggeration. Yes, much of the County is very wealthy, but I know for a fact that bus drivers live here. Our kid’s schoolbus driver lives in the county. He’s lived here many years though, when housing was actually affordable. And it’s not like there’s nothing affordable in, say, South Arlington.

      • Josh S

        You know what I find unfortunate? That some people walk down the street staring at their screens and assume other people will step around them in order to avoid a collision.

        As long as we’re sharing non sequitors.

        Oh, and that a perfectly good recipe for beef jerky gets deleted rather than allowing the blogosphere to enjoy it. Sheesh.

        • John Fontain

          “You know what I find unfortunate? That some people walk down the street staring at their screens and assume other people will step around them in order to avoid a collision.”

          We have found common ground. Textwalkers drive me bananas! What is even more unfortunate is when I don’t clear out of their path and their smartphone goes tumbling to the ground.

          • TGEoA

            You’re too nice. Last week I stiff armed some texting Clarendouche and put him on his ass. Too bad he wasn’t wearing flip-flops. It would have been funny to see one go flying onto Wilson Blvd.

  • JammingEcono

    Before we go bashing the union for violating its end of the deal, there needs to be more clarity about whether Forsythe held up their end of the contract too. The union alleges that that hasn’t been the case for some time, hence the NLRB and Arlington Human Rights Commission complaints.

    Now, one could argue that the NLRB and AHRC are the proper forums to hash out the differences as opposed to the picket line. That said, I don’t begrudge the union its strike, especially if there is truth to the union’s allegations that Forsythe wasn’t negotiating in good faith in the arbitration process called for in the contract.

    Regardless of the merits of either side, the County SHOULD be involved if a) service is disrupted by the strike and/or b) in responding to the strike, Forsythe endangers rider safety by using poorly-trained replacement drivers.

    In my subjective (albeit, pro-union) opinion, how Forsythe handles employee complaints should be an issue the County brings up in its negotiations with Forsythe. Hopefully, a union rep would be at the table when those decisions are being made. At the end of the day, happy, competent Forsythe employees ultimately benefit ART riders.

    • MotherHarrisJones

      +1000

  • bob

    So Zimmie will sell out anybody. Even the unions.

    My god, we are living in Communist China.

  • JammingEcono

    FWIW, here’s a link to the County’s contract with Forsythe: http://egov.arlingtonva.us/purchasing/pdf/contracts/269-10.pdf

    Based on a cursory review, there’s not a lot in there about how Forsythe treats its employees aside from standard civil rights/non-discrimination , OSHA and drug testing requirements. There is a requirement that Forsythe submit and the County approve written standard operating procedures that include “driver corrective processes,” “Description of operator training, standards of performance and review procedures.”

    No mention of how Forsythe should handle its relationship with any union(s) representing the workers.

    • El Guest-o

      I would think such a clause would be highly unusual. As someone who has been a contractor, I have signed contracts saying the client could direct me to not use some of my employees on their projects, that I had to drug / background test employees, etc. That’s as far as I would let a client dictate my relationships with my employees. I would never let them dictate how I negotiated (remember – a CBA IS negotiated) my collective bargaining agreement with the union, its terms, or other aspects of the employer / employee relationship.

      The County should stay the hell out of the relationship as long as Forsythe is performing their contractually required duties. While it is unusual to have so many trainees on the job at once, having trainee bus drivers is almost certainly contemplated by the agreement (and by common sense) and doesn’t likely rise to the level of providing inadequate service.

      • JammingEcono

        I see your point EG, but I think expecting a hands-off approach only works to a point.

        For example, should citizens care if Forsythe performs their contractually required duties perfectly but pays their drivers minimum wage, give them crappy benefits, and fail to negotiate in good faith with the union?

        The correct answer is that it’s a matter of opinion. It would certainly be legal for Forsythe to do so, but not necessarily ethical or reflective of what many (and, I would venture to guess, a majority of) Arlingtonians would want.

        If enough citizens care enough about the working conditions of County contractors then it’s entirely appropriate for the County to get involved. Do I think that will happen in this case? No, but I think it’s entirely appropriate for our elected officials to use their best judgement about what citizens want re: working conditions for County contractors and to let that influence their negotiations in the new contract with Forsythe. That’s why I’m pleased as punch (among other reasons) to live in County that has a living wage requirement for County contractors.

        Are there folks out there (and more specifically in this comment thread) who disagree? Certainly. Is 100% agreement required to get things done in a democratic society? Nope.

  • Josh S

    Awesome. Something completely unrelated, I don’t know who you are, but I love you.

  • Josh S

    OH COME ON!!

  • John Andre

    Actually the fired drivers have the right to sue and prove sexual harassment which is FORBIDDEN by Federal law irrespective of state right-to-work law.

  • bus rider

    So this morning one of the new scab drivers runs up on the curb right next to a hydrant. The instructor tries to carefully move it, but ends up scraping it. The bus has to sit there for fear that the hydrant will be damaged, or hit a fuel line. Way to go, Forsythe. Could have just let the drivers go to the bathroom every once in a while.

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