City bus drivers and members of a transit union which has been demonstrating at the Downtown transit center for more than two weeks claimed Monday their protest signs had been stolen and they had been harassed by "union busters."
An official with the Fairfield-based MV Transportation, which holds a contract with the city of Lodi to operate the GrapeLine service, said its wages are fair and denied intimidation.
GrapeLine drivers, however, said their employer is trying to intimidate them to discourage them from voting to join the union at their Nov. 30 election.
Monday afternoon, about five members of Stockton-based Amalgamated Transit Union Local 276 and GrapeLine drivers sat in front of hand-painted pro-union signs at the bus terminal at Sacramento and Oak streets. Union business agent Vincent Contino encouraged GrapeLine drivers to vote to join the union.
"They haven't had a raise in five years," said Contino, who is also a San Joaquin Regional Transit driver. "Most of them have no health care. These people are wage slaves."
The union has staged rallies in Lodi for the last two weeks. On Saturday, 30 people rallied in support of the union, Lodi police said.
MV Transportation has hired "union busters" to intimidate and threaten the GrapeLine drivers into voting against unionizing, Contino said.
Police were called Monday to help the union members retrieve their signs, which they say were stolen by MV Transportation managers. When they received their signs, which read, "With a union, we are strong," someone had written "no" in front of the word "union."
• Number of states: 27
• Number of locations: 125
• Number of vehicles: 5,800
• Number of miles driven last year: 159,714,427
• Annual revenue: $510 million
• Number of employees: 11,151
• Number of drivers: 8,845
Source: MV Transportation.
Jay Jeter, MV Transportation regional vice president, denied accusations of intimidation, and said the GrapeLine drivers don't need a union.
"We don't feel as if the drivers have been treated in a way to require a union," Jeter said. "We pay competitive wages and have an excellent benefits package."
MV Transportation operates city bus services nationwide, and some of its drivers are unionized, Jeter said. The GrapeLine drivers are better paid than bus drivers in some cities in the Central Valley, including Elk Grove, which has unionized drivers, Jeter said.
GrapeLine driver Theresa Farmer said she supports joining the union. She makes $12.65 per hour with no health care benefits. She said the system the company uses to assign work to employees is not fair and shows favoritism toward certain employees.
"There are people not getting fair treatment on the job," she said.
Doug Campbell, a GrapeLine driver, rallied in support of the union on Monday.
"The fact that we could have a negotiated contract and have someone enforce it are the reasons we want a union," he said.
The city of Lodi has distanced itself from the union discussion.
"They have the right to picket and they have the right to join a union," Lodi spokesman Jeff Hood said. "As long as they don't keep people from stepping onto buses, it's not an issue with us."