Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Thursday, June 22, 2017

Students advocate for shuttle drivers' workplace rights

Students advocate for shuttle drivers' workplace rights
Shuttle drivers typically receive one 30-minute break during their 8.5-hour shifts. Other AU maintenance staffers receive two additional 15-minute breaks during shifts of the same length.

The Student Worker Alliance is fighting on behalf of AU’s shuttle drivers to get them 15-minute breaks and a defined disciplinary policy.

Shuttle drivers currently receive one 30-minute break during their 8.5-hour shifts, while other AU maintenance employees receive two additional 15-minute breaks during their 8.5-hour work shifts, said Hanaleah Hoberman, a member of the AU Student Worker Alliance.

“Not only is it an indicator of difference of treatment, but it’s not safe,” she said. “Everyone knows that if you’re driving for a really long time, you need a break.”

Although the drivers unionized in 2007, Hoberman said she feels the University has been preventing them from speaking up.

While the disciplinary policy for all other maintenance workers is a strict three-step procedure, the policy for the shuttle drivers states this procedure will “usually” be used for the drivers as well, giving the University the option to terminate their jobs without warning for previous infractions, Hoberman said.

Assistant Director of Facilities Management Mark Feist said, although there may be some leeway, AU abides by the drivers’ “progressive” discipline policy, which is modeled after the three-step procedure and takes gradual actions based on the number of violations committed. Unless drivers endanger others through willful safety violations, this policy will be used, Feist said. AU has a list of situations where such policy does not have to be followed, but Feist said he did not know the specifics.

“In AU’s policy there’s a list of situations where a first offence could be a violation,” he said.

However, shuttle drivers and the AU Student Alliance say they remain troubled by the “vagueness” of the policy, which leaves drivers uncertain about their job security.

“Workers can be fired for pretty much any reason with little justification, and the traditional three-step procedure isn’t necessarily used,” said Ethan Miller, an AU Student Workers’ Alliance member. “Which is dangerous because it leaves open a lot of [room] for intimidation.”

One shuttle driver, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that during last summer’s contract negotiation, AU refused to provide the requested 15-minute breaks for the shuttle drivers’ 8.5-hour shifts, even though other maintenance employees receive them.

Feist said shuttle drivers received these breaks as long as they worked a total of nine hours. The shuttle driver, however, said he would like to receive these breaks for working the same amount of time – 8.5 hours – that other AU maintenance workers do.

Now that the new contract is in place, the driver said the shuttle staff has given up fighting.

“We have already signed the agreement, so there is nothing we can do,” he said. “I don’t want to get too involved in publishing newspaper articles and all that, because then management can do something. I’m afraid a little bit.”

While the AU Student Workers’ Alliance meets with the drivers regularly and hears their concerns about the disciplinary policy and lack of adequate breaks, Transportation Operations and Maintenance Manager Alef Worku said he has not received any complaints from drivers and that there is a good relationship between drivers and the management.

“I haven’t heard anything as far as wanting an additional break,” Worku said. “We have to abide by the contract. I sincerely speaking haven’t heard from them.”

But the shuttle driver said fear prevents the drivers from speaking to the management, which is why they have not been heard from since the negotiations.

“We are kind of discouraged and disheartened to fight for our rights,” the driver said. “There are only two or three people who want to fight, the others are scared. We just want to work and go home.”

AU currently employs 12 full-time and five part-time shuttle drivers,Hoberman said.

nglass@theeagleonline.com