n March 8, 2023, school bus drivers in Alabama's largest city made history by unionizing with Teamsters Local 402. With a resounding 131 yes to 6 no margin of victory, the nearly 200 drivers contracted by Huntsville City Schools are now officially organized with the Teamsters.
Since 2018, Apple Bus, based out of Missouri, has been the transportation contractor for Huntsville City Schools (HCS). In 2022, Ohio-based school bus transportation company First Student announced an acquisition of Apple Bus. Prior to the 2018 contract with Apple Bus (now owned by First Student), HCS contracted with Durham School Services.
Huntsville City Schools has been a pioneer of privatization of support services among school districts in Alabama. With this practice, the school district takes what would normally be public sector jobs (with the retirement, healthcare, salaries, legal rights, etc., that comes with it) and instead outsources or privatizes the labor, hiring contractors and staffing agencies rather than the school district directly employing these positions. HCS has long outsourced its school bus drivers. And over the past fifteen years, the school district has privatized a significant portion of its other support services, relying on agencies such as Spur to provide many of the school system's cafeteria workers, custodians, security guards, instructional assistants, and even receptionists and other office staff.
These outsourced workers typically lack paid sick leave, a defined benefits pension, due process rights, and other benefits and rights established by Alabama state law and local board policy for public school employees. However, because these workers are not directly employed by the public school district, they fall under private sector rules regarding unionization. The framework for private sector unionization is established by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), overseen by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
The Teamsters victory in Huntsville comes amid a series of wins for the union's efforts to organize school bus drivers. This includes wins at First Student, which bought Apple Bus in 2022, and with whom Teamsters negotiate elsewhere in the country. Just in the past few months, successful NLRB elections include 98 First Student school bus workers in Amarillo, TX voting 61-9 to join Teamsters Local 577 and 35 school bus drivers for First Student in South Sioux City, NE voting 24-6 to join Teamsters Local 554.
Teamsters Local 402 is based in Muscle Shoals and the Business Agent is Joe Gronek. According to their website, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters are America’s largest, most diverse union. In 1903, the Teamsters started as a merger of the two leading team driver associations. The Teamsters are known as the champion of freight drivers and warehouse workers, but have organized workers in virtually every occupation imaginable, both professional and non-professional, private sector and public sector. The Teamsters have 1.2 million members across nearly 1,900 local affiliates throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.
This is a developing story. Please stay tuned to TVLR.FM and upcoming episodes of The Valley Labor Report for more information about this successful campaign.