Henri Toussaint’s two youngest children did not make it to the Irving Middle School today.
“I sacrificed their school this morning,” said Toussaint, one of roughly 800 members of United Steel Workers Local 8751, which represents school bus drivers for the city of Boston.
Standing with other drivers near the Readville bus yard, where they engaged in what they called a “protest” but which Mayor Menino termed an illegal strike, Toussaint said he and his fellow union members had been forced into taking a stand by chronic mismanagement by the city’s school bus contractor, Veolia.
“They provoked us to do it,” he said, an assertion that drew affirmation from other bus drivers nearby. “All we are saying is: ‘Respect our contract. We are not asking for one dime more.’”
Toussaint and other drivers said Veolia, which is in the first year of a five-year contract with the city to handle transportation for the school department, has failed to pay them at the contractual wage rate, has failed to provide paychecks at 5 p.m. Friday as they are supposed to, has violated seniority rules by unilaterally assigning drivers to different routes, and has included phantom payments and phantom deductions on paychecks.
Steve Kirschbaum, chairman of the union’s grievance committee, did a call and response with drivers at the Readville bus yard.
“We are not going to take it! Are we together?” said Kirschbaum, to which the drivers shouted, “Yes!”
“Are we united?” Kirschbaum continued. Again, the crowd shouted, “Yes!”
“Are we union?”
“Union!” shouted Kirschbaum.
“Union!” the bus drivers responded.