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Huntsville bus drivers vote to unionize

Nearly 200 drivers will join Teamsters Local 402, based out of Muscle Shoals.

Bus drivers with the Huntsville City Schools system have successfully unionized following a vote earlier this month. They will be joining Teamsters Local 402, based out of Muscle Shoals.

Huntsville's bus drivers are contracted out and are not employees of the school district. They are considered employees of First Student, Inc., which acquired Apple Bus, Huntsville's previous contractor, in 2022.

The vote to unionize was 131 drivers in favor, with 6 against the move.

Local 402 will now be in charge of representing this group in matters relating to compensation and benefits. The Teamsters national Twitter account praised the announcement, with First Student driver Naomi Smith quoted as saying, "I am so proud of my bus family for standing in solidarity and voting for change. Together, we will secure a better way of life for us all."

The Teamsters organize workers in many different industries in the public and private sectors. They have approximately 1.2 million members across about 1,900 local outlets.

A representative from First Student, Inc. issued the following statement:

First Student has a Freedom of Association Policy that supports our commitment to our employees and their individual right to choose whether or not they want to join a labor union.

We have no conflict with our drivers organizing. We have a strong relationship with the Teamsters, which includes a National Master Agreement.

First Student contracts with both unionized and non-unionized teams, and our safety and reliability standards are equally high.

FOX54 was able to chat with Local 402 representative Joe Gronek and Huntsville school bus driver, Clifton Frith. 

Frith has been a bus driver for over 20 years. 

"We feel just like school teachers - unappreciated. People don't appreciate bus drivers and monitors the way they should. We take care of a valued commodity, your kids," said Frith.

"We represent workers, at the workplace, in regards to terms and conditions of employment, wages, benefits, seniority. We actually help the workers negotiate a contract between them, those workers collectively and their employer," said Gronek.

In this case, as mentioned above, Local 402 will be representing the city school bus drivers in negotiating a fair labor agreement with employer First Student, Inc.

One of the main reasons most workers want to unionize is wages.  

"The cost of living is going up. A nickel or a dime, or a quarter, it's not touching the cost of living," said Frith. 

But again, in this case, the reason for wanting to unionize goes much deeper:

"We want better wages. We want benefits. We want better healthcare. We like vacation days. It's just a lot of things that we have to go to the table, to negotiate, to get these things."

"What will happen next? And as a matter of fact, I've got a meeting coming up in the very near future with the workers, and we'll have discussions in regards to what they want to be negotiated in their labor agreement," said Gronek. 

At the end of the day, Frith and most other drivers don't want to stop driving. They just want to be treated better when doing so.

"That's all. That's all anybody wants to be; you want to be appreciated. And you want to see the appreciation," said Frith. 

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