School Bus Driver Strike (USWA)

The School Bus Drivers Union was formed in 1979 shortly after desegregation ended. They formed as part of the United Steelworkers of America Local 8751 advocating for better working conditions and safer conditions for the school kids. They went on strike in 1981 to ensure a contract with the Boston School Committee to help create safer conditions for driving the students to school. In particular they were asking for a yearly contract, seniority in hiring, and more time to check the bus in the mornings before picking up students. This was an ugly conflict with the city bringing in scabs to drive the buses and at one point using the MBTA buses to bring students to school. This ended disastrously.

At one point one of the hired scab bus drivers ran over a union driver on the picket line putting him into the hospital and out of work. The School Bus Drivers Union eventually won their strike, ensuring safer conditions for the students and ensuring a yearly contract. To win this strike they had lots of local support, including the Boston Teachers Union (BTU) who supported their advocacy for the students.

Alongside publishing in-depth articles about the conflict the BTU went to the picket line to support the school bus drivers and even lent them the BTU Union Hall for their meetings. The BTU was invested in helping ensure the safety of the students on their way to and from school.

Political cartoon of a bus full of rats with a cop wielding a baton on it. A knight in a suit of armor and a shield that says "ARA" stands in front telling the scabs the coast is clear. Underneath the image is the text "Plenty of money for strikebreakers - none for bus monitors"
From the November 1980 edition of the Boston Union Teacher

The BTU offered their support in a variety of ways. One way is the articles that they published. In the November 1980 issue of the Boston Union Teacher an article by Richard Stutman, future President of the BTU, details what led up to the strike and the conditions the strikers are up again. He ends his article with a plea to his fellow teachers:

What does Local 8751 have going for them? They have themselves – and they’re doing the best they can. And they have us. “Us” is organized labor, parents’ groups, and community forces. Make no mistake about it – we all face the same struggle that ARA does. When they go to jail, a part of us goes with them. When their wages are cut and their working conditions are threatened, ours are too. Do it to them and it makes it easier to do it to us. Have we done enough to help?

-Richard Stutman

This call to arms was heard by many Boston Teacher Union members who went to the picket line with the School Bus Drivers. One teacher who witnessed Gene Bruskin, a Union bus driver on the picket line, being run over by a scab bus driver penned a poem anonymously in the Boston Union Teacher’s November 1980 issue.

Parents also heeded this call as the School Bus Drivers Union gained support from local parents groups as they advocated for their children’s best interests.

The interests of the Boston Teacher Union and the School Bus Drivers Union was aligned, both wanted to advocate for what was best for the students. And both faced similar issues with the Boston School Committee.

Poem title "Two Sides" from a Union Teacher
Poem “Two Sides” from the November 1980 issue of the Boston Union Teacher

In Hazard Lights the newsletter of the School Bus Driver Union July 1980 issue they highlight the partnership that is developed between them. Alongside the Boston Teacher Union Hall being used for the School Bus Driver Union a coalition between the two groups was formed as well.

A Coalition between us, the Boston Teachers’ Union, and other unions that service the Boston Schools has been formed. We have had several meetings already, and more are planned for the summer. We are working on a statement of unity for all the unions involved. It is in the best of union tradition for all workers, regardless of what union they may belong to, to work together. We are looking for a long and lasting relationship. In unity there is strength!

Union Bulletin Hazard Lights July 1980

The School Bus Drivers Strike comes at the end of a decade of militant union activism, and is just one part of the work that the Bus Drivers and the Boston Teachers Union do to ensure safer conditions for the students of Boston.