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First Student Bus Company Engages in “Unrelenting Campaign" Against U.S. Workers
Study Details Pattern of International Human Rights and Labor Law Violations by U.K.-Based Transport Corporation

May 15, 2006

Kimberly Freeman
202-822-2127, ext. 111
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WASHINGTON, DC—A new report released today by American Rights at Work finds First Student, Inc., the second largest school bus provider in the United States and subsidiary of U.K.-based First Group, PLC., in violation of international human rights standards for interfering with workers' freedom of association. "The company has executed an unrelenting campaign against workers' self-organization," says report author Lance Compa, a Cornell University professor and renowned international labor and human rights scholar.

Employees of First Student in a number of American cities are currently seeking union representation with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.  The union brought potential human rights infractions to Compa's attention and asked him to investigate.

Freedom of Association and Workers' Rights Violations at First Student, Inc., analyzes the company's management and treatment of its U.S. workers-the men and women who transport more than a million schoolchildren on approximately 20,000 school buses each day throughout the country.  Observes Compa, "First Student has suspended, laid off, fired, and refused to hire employees engaged in union activity." Further, the research reveals that the employer also threatens workers with loss of pay and benefits if they attempt to exercise their right to form a union. 

Michelle Quick, a First Student employee in Iowa City, Iowa described to Compa the intimidating tactics her employer has used leading up to the election for union representation with Teamsters on Tuesday, May 16, 2006.  According to Quick, managers told workers during forced employee meetings that "they can permanently replace us in a strike and that we could lose our benefits if the union came in."

Sheila Wactor, a First Student employee in Baltimore says that she and her co-workers are attempting to form a union to address serious safety issues. Wactor told Compa that management "put up posters threatening to close down" the worksite and agitated workers about the union. Baltimore area workers are scheduled to vote on union representation with the Teamsters on June 1, 2006.

"Employers aren't supposed to intimidate, coerce, or fire employees for attempting to exercise their democratic rights to form a union," says American Rights at Work Board Chair David Bonior. "Yet what's happening to First Student employees happens to American workers every day and most people have no idea." 

Articles 20 and 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights state that, "Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association…and the right to form and join trade unions."  The United States and the United Kingdom signed the Declaration in 1948.

Another study recently released by American Rights at Work confirms that when workers start a union organizing campaign, they often face an ambush by employers in the weeks preceding an election.  Research conducted by the University of Illinois-Chicago's Center for Urban Economic Development found that 30 percent of employers fire pro-union workers, 49 percent threaten to close a worksite when workers try to form a union, and 51 percent coerce workers into opposing unions with bribes and special favors.

"Does this sound like a democratic, free or fair process?" Bonior asks. "These actions violate the spirit of U.S. labor law and international covenants.  First Student employees and all workers deserve better."

The report urges that First Student respect workers' rights to freedom of association, cease its interference, and engage workers and their representatives in a "mutually respectful and beneficial" dialogue.

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