Picket Line Report: Meriden NBT School Bus Drivers’ Strike
Eric Goodman, Socialist Revolution New Haven
The picket line was set up before dawn on Friday, Sept. 1, 2023, by Teamsters Local 671 workers and their supporters. The atmosphere was tense as cars whizzed along Route 5 outside New Britain Transportation in the chilly air. A few scabs, drivers, and office workers hopped the curb before the picketers knew what was happening, but the line was soon extended to block all access. We marched, chanted, and drank coffee to stay warm while other Teamsters arrived from locals as far away as Boston.
Most of the school bus drivers on the line made less than $20/hour and were given fewer than 40 hours a week despite years of work. One woman described how they were given one unpaid bereavement day a year, and how if they took it they would lose an attendance bonus. Their job requires both a CDL and the patience of a saint, but they had reached their tolerance.
Ten or so police officers arrived on cue as the scab buses pulled up the driveway. Eighty-strong picketers formed a marching whirlpool to block the drivers. Some strikers broke off to variously cajole the scabs to turn off their vehicles and insult their integrity. The near-complete strike involved all but five or six drivers, who, I was informed, hardly ever showed up to work normally. How much was the betrayal of these Judases bought for?
We held them back for a good half an hour. “We’re letting two out!” yelled one of the union officials, and the police started shoving workers out of the way. “Get back! We talked to them!” A Teamster officer in a white fleece and khakis pinched my arm and pulled me back as I took my time getting away from a departing bus.
The wind went out of the strikers’ sails as first one more bus and then the rest of the buses were let through the line after perfunctory delays. Still, the strike had done its job. After one more day of striking, the triumphant drivers won a 6% wage increase and the company lost its district bussing contract. tsoc