San Francisco’s tech workers may be looking for a new ride to work if their shuttle bus drivers go on strike over contract negotiations. At a meeting yesterday in San Leandro, leaders of the Teamsters Local 853 advised members to be prepared for a strike if there’s no progress on the contract proposal that the union approved and sent to Compass Transportation back in August. The proposal would increase pay and improve benefits for drivers.

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As SF Gate reported, the dispute is over a proposed contract between the union, Teamsters Local 853, and Compass Transportation Systems. Compass is a contractor which provides shuttle bus services for big technology companies like Apple, eBay, Evernote, Genentech, PayPal, and Yahoo for their employees’ commutes. For instance, Apple uses Compass to take its San Francisco-dwelling employees to Cupertino and back every day. In August, union members voted to approve a contract proposal, but Compass hasn’t accepted.

Holidays and Health Care

Most of the dispute is over parts of the contract proposal dealing with medical benefits, as well as a provision which would give drivers paid time off on 11 holidays, when the tech companies’ employees are off (with pay). Instead, Compass has offered 6 paid holidays. And at the moment, drivers get no paid holidays, so when the tech workers don’t need rides, the bus drivers lose money.

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The contract proposal also asks Compass to pay for the first year of health care coverage for its drivers. There’s debate over that provision even among union members, since some say that even the tech workers they shuttle to and from work don’t get free health insurance.

Better Pay

If it’s accepted, the contract proposal would also raise drivers’ wages from between $17 and $21 an hour to between $25 and $29 an hour. It would also raise wages for drivers forced to work split shifts: dropping busloads of tech workers off in the morning and picking them up in the afternoon, with several hours in between during which drivers have to stick around but don’t get paid. In early 2014, the average driver was working 15.5 hour days, with about 6 hours of unpaid time between split shifts.

Pay increases actually seem to be the least disputed part of the proposal. Earlier this year, Apple raised the pay for its drivers, and eBay, Genentech, PayPal, and Yahoo followed suit. Drivers for those companies had been making $17 to $20 an hour, and their pay increased, on average, by about $9.50 an hour.

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In many parts of the U.S., $17 to $20 an hour would be a decent wage, but rent in most of San Francisco is increasingly expensive (a phenomenon for which tech buses have taken some heat). And thanks to the split-shift problem, most bus drivers aren’t getting paid for full-time hours. As a result, some are actually living in their cars because they can’t afford to either rent a really expensive apartment near their routes or commute for several hours to work. There is no free bus for the bus drivers, after all.

High Stakes

For a strike to happen, union members would have to vote in favor the action, and that’s not something they will do lightly. During a strike, drivers won’t be driving, which means they’ll lose their pay for the duration. There’s also a chance that their employer, Compass Transportation, might lose some of its contracts if its bus drivers strike — which could leave drivers out of work in the long run. That’s why striking is usually a last resort when negotiations between unions and employers break down.

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On the other hand, a bus driver strike could mean negative publicity for San Franciso’s tech companies, who have already faced criticism and even protests over their private shuttle buses. And, of course, a driver strike would shut down these companies’ shuttle bus systems until the parties reached a resolution. Those factors could give any potential strike — or even the threat of a strike — quite a bit of leverage at the bargaining table.

[SF Gate]

Top image: Screenshot, USA Today

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