(Updates to clarify claims over the Santa Rosa election ballot.)
Two UK parliamentarians have released a report documenting alleged labour rights violations by a US subsidiary of National Express Group, ahead of a shareholder resolution at the UK transport group annual meeting (AGM) calling for an independent review of the subsidiary’s employment practices.
According to the Teamsters, the US blue-collar union that is backing the proposal filed by the £160bn UK Local Authority Pension Fund Forum, National Express’s US subsidiary Durham has a long history of suppressing unionisation of its school bus drivers and generally mistreating them. Its proposal for a review of Durham has already gained the backing of three UK pension funds, including Nottinghamshire County Council, Greater Manchester and London Borough of Islington.
In the report, entitled Broken Commitments, Vulnerable Workers, UK Labour MPs Ian Lavery and Jim Sheridan say they found evidence of suppression of unions as well as poor working conditions throughout Durham’s operations. In compiling the report, Lavery and Sheridan say they talked with school bus workers employed by Durham in South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Illinois and New Mexico.
Citing an example of union-suppression, Lavery and Sheridan said that Durham’s operation in Santa Rosa County, Florida, refused to accept an election in which workers voted to join the Teamsters’ union.
“Rather than recognising the result and respecting the NLRB’s (National Labor Relations Board) order to do so, Durham has appealed to a federal court on a technicality in order to drag out the recognition process for a considerable period of time.” A federal agency, the NLRB oversees labour union elections and investigates unfair labour practices.National Express spokesman Anthony Vigor refuted the MPs’ version of events, pointing out that the case was on appeal because of the way the election was handled. An earlier version of this story reported a National Express spokesman saying the company understood that a ballot box had been stolen. Both the Teamsters and National Express have now clarified that the ballot box was not stolen, but was moved.
National Express said it has appealed the voting process saying the ballot box was removed from the voting booth. The Teamsters said the ballot box was moved by an agent of the National Labor Relations Board to enable a disabled employee to vote.
Regarding the working conditions, the MPs said drivers told them that a good portion of Durham’s school busses were old and defective. Meanwhile, drivers often received poor training and respect and were sometimes forced to work despite being sick. “Apparently it is common for supervisors to pressure workers to work when they are ill; even when they holding a valid doctor’s certificate citing unfitness to work,” Lavery and Sheridan said.
Vigor also denied these charges, saying that whenever his firm investigated charges of coercion, they were proven false. As to Durham’s fleet of schools buses, Vigor said they were in fine working order and regularly inspected by US authorities. The spokesman added: “The Teamsters have been making these false allegations about Durham for some time now. The fact is that a recent survey of our US employees reflected that 91% are satisfied.”
Beyond recommending that shareholders approve the Teamsters’ proposal, the MPs urge in their report that National Express’s board “create a global workplace rights policy that ensures freedom of association and includes strong independent monitoring, reporting and enforcement mechanisms.”