Lodi's bus drivers are now union members.
Following months of divisive rhetoric, alleged racial slurs and even "union busting," 38 GrapeLine and Dial-A-Ride drivers have joined the Sacramento-based Amalgamated Transit Union Local 256.
Though they drive city buses, the workers are not city employees. They're employed by Fairfield-based MV Transportation.
Union supporters say joining ATM Local 256 has already boosted wages and benefits, and will safeguard worker's rights.
"Those people in Lodi, those drivers, are going to become happier. And they're going to end up career drivers … in the long run, the city of Lodi is going to benefit," said Vincent Contino, president of Stockton-based ATU Local 276, who helped lead the union effort in Lodi.
Leaders with MV Transportation say they never opposed workers joining a union. It was the "scare tactics" and misinformation used by union supporters that frustrated them, said Nikki Frenney, a company spokeswoman.
"We don't have an adversarial relationship with the unions," she added.
The bus drivers held a vote in November on whether to join the union. But because they tied, 20 to 20, the effort failed.
Union organizers, however, appealed to the National Labor Relations Board, claiming the transit company had coerced workers not to join the union.
The labor board ruled April 1 in favor of the union. That allowed for last month's new and successful vote.
Contino, the union organizer, claimed "union busters" were brought in last fall to intimidate pro-union drivers and even followed some employees home. Signs reading "No Union" were also displayed at work sites, he said.
The city's union groups include:
- Fire mid-management
- General services
- International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
- Lodi Professional Firefighters
- Maintenance and operators
- Police dispatchers
- Police Officers' Association
Source: City of Lodi
MV Transportation has denied the allegations.
Teresa Farmer, a GrapeLine driver who led union efforts in Lodi, said she's "proud" to be part of ATU once again.
Farmer began driving buses in 1970 for the city of Stockton. She said the union took care of its workers then and will now.
She added that drivers who had opposed the union will be very pleased when their pay is increased.
Without the union's bargaining power, Farmer said she would have waited several years before seeing a raise - something MV denies.
MV Transportation starts its Lodi drivers at $12.25 per hour, according to company records.
Contino, the Stockton-based union organizer, said Lodi drivers have already seen a $0.95 per hour increase in pay.
Frenney, the transit company spokeswoman, said she could not confirm that.
MV Transportation's contract with the city is up for renewal this spring. The company, along with Paris-based Veolia Transit, has submitted a bid for the job.
City spokesman Jeff Hood said the contract could be awarded late this month.
He added that the city does not expect bus fares to rise because of the union issue.