The Ottumwa Courier

January 19, 2013

Bus drivers consider union

Employees of Southern Iowa Transit filed for election to unionize

Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — The school bus picking your little ones up in the morning could one day be driven by a union bus driver.

The yellow school buses in Ottumwa are operated by Southern Iowa Transit, which has contracted annually with the Ottumwa school district and other entities in the region.

Company owner Jerry Kjer said he is aware that some employees have discussed organizing.

According to Jon Thomas, a Des Moines organizer and business agent for Teamsters Local 238, the employees of Southern Iowa Transit “filed for election” to unionize this week with the National Labor Relations Board.

A release from the Teamsters said that drivers “are tired of being asked to come to work by management after calling in sick ... Employees have also complained about potential safety concerns with buses which seem only to be fixed shortly before state inspections.”

Thomas said the drivers seek to form a union with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

“This group really feels the best way to address their concerns is to form a union and have somebody represent them,” he said.  

The Teamsters have more than 10,000 members in Iowa alone, including many police officers.

“This has to do with respect and fairness as much as it does with money,” Thomas said.

“Southern Iowa Transit has acted and will continue to act in the best interests of our employees and our customers,” Kjer said, adding that he was aware there would be a vote. He encouraged all employees to attend regardless of whether they want to bring in a union or not.

Thomas said the vote would be by secret ballot, held at Southern Iowa Transit.

“I emphasize them coming to the meeting,” he said. “The election is [decided by] a simple majority of those at the meeting, of who votes. So even if they decide not to go to the meeting because they do not want a union, not voting [can have the same result] as a positive vote for the union.”

The union’s goal, according to Thomas, is to let school bus drivers in Ottumwa be heard when they are sick or want equipment repaired.

Why an election?

“The NLRB is a branch of the federal government [which provides] guidelines for [forming] a union,” Jon Thomas said.

To go before the board, Thomas must bring them “a show of interest” from employees at the company.

Workers will typically do that by signing an interest card. The government will then ask the businesses for a list of all employees.

If 30 percent of employees have shown interest, the board may move forward with an election.

“Southern Iowa Transit has always and will continue to comply with federal and state law, including the upcoming union election,” said Kjer.