Bend bus driver argues for the right to organize

In the Bend Bulletin, local bus driver Bill Groesz wrote an op-ed arguing for an end to employer intimidation tactics and for more democratic union elections. (Sorry, online only for subscribers.)

Previously, the Bulletin's editors had editorialized against such reforms - saying:

"We have no idea how frequently such behavior [employer intimidation and harassment of workers who try to organize] actually occurs."

Well, Bill Groesz's column shares what happened - right here in Oregon:

Most of us like to hear both sides before casting our votes. But like most union elections, this was hardly democratic. The company deluged us with anti-union memos. They communicated with us as much as they wanted to on the job site, but those of us who wanted to discuss union possibilities could do it only on our breaks -- but only one employee is allowed a break at a time. Any notices we left on the job site were promptly removed.

Worst of all, they threatened us with the possible loss of our jobs should we go union. Some pro-union workers saw their hours cut, and supervisors were shouting that “they’d all be fired and replaced.”

Why did Bend bus drivers want to create a union?

Unfortunately, working non-union can lead to poor working conditions like those we faced as bus drivers: Erratic scheduling that reduced our income, last-minute weekend plan changes, and embarrassingly, being told to relieve ourselves “behind a tree or bush” instead of having real bathroom breaks.

Fear is a powerful anti-motivator for unionization and political action, but Groesz isn't deterred:

I also hope that I will not be fired for writing this opinion piece. Statistics show that across the country, one in five pro-union workers is fired during an organizing drive. That would make my chances 20%. No one has done a study of how many pro-union workers are fired after writing their story in the local newspaper.

That’s pretty scary, considering I’ve just undergone treatment for cancer and can’t afford to lose my health insurance.

So, what reforms are being considered by the 2007 Legislature?

Because of what we experienced, some of us drove to Salem to testify in support of the Oregon AFL-CIO’s bills. Here’s why:

HB 2893, the Worker Freedom Act, will allow Oregon workers to choose not to attend mandatory meetings on politics, religion or union organizing campaigns. This bill would have helped my fellow bus drivers, who were forced to attend stressful meetings in small, crowded rooms where company executives would try to persuade them not to join the union.

HB 2892, the State Financial Accountability Act, would ensure that Oregon’s taxpayer dollars are used to pay for programs – like better bus service – instead of paying high-dollar consultants to wage a campaign against workers.

HB 2891, Majority Sign-Up, would allow workers to have their union recognized after a majority of them signed cards saying that they were choosing the union. This process is already legal and in use with success here in Oregon.


  • Ross Williams (unverified)

    Employers ought to be banned entirely from participating in their workers decision on whether they want a union.

  • (Show?)

    it amazes me that with even right-wingers like Lou Dobbs talking about a "war on the middle class" and the continued growth of the gap between the wealthy few and the rest of us -- workers still oppose unions! what do they gain from trusting the corporations that downsize their jobs, mess with their work lives (as described by the writer), harass workers who seek democratic control of their workplace (because as we know, it's the bosses who make the business successful; workers are irrelevant).

    what is the downsize for Democrats not to support unions as vigorously as possible? we'll lose the votes of rich white men?

  • Thomas Ware (unverified)

    Just a little context: Bend has yet to celebrate its first anniversary of having a city "mass transit" system. These drivers (many of them) were previously employed with an out-sourced contractor who ran our Dial a Ride quasi taxi service for seniors. The city is now runnning a scheduled bus system and these drivers are contemporous with other, union, drivers around the country.

  • Sargent (unverified)

    I've met several of these bus operators through my work with the union. They are really good people who love serving their community. In my mind they are truly heroes for:

    1) working so hard to organize so that they and their fellow workers could negotiate for better pay and benefits, and have some say in improving the bus operations they know so well, and

    2) for taking their fight to the State Capitol so that other workers around Oregon could benefit from their opening the doors to make organizing easier on workers.

    Thanks, Bill, Russ, Melanie, and your friends and supporters in Central Oregon. You're the best!

  • margaret (unverified)

    Workers who do stand up for dignity by organizing a union are truly heroes. In another campaign the employer spent over $50,000 taxpayer dollars to hire a lawyer, delay the election through legal wrangling about who got to vote, and try to discourage workers having a say. The pressure on the workers was really intense, as they had to stand up in front of their bosses and disagree with what those bosses had just said under oath. It should be much easier than it is. Workers shouldn't have to be heroes to win collective bargaining rights. That's why we need the Employee Free Choice Act to change national labor law, as well as the state bills that Bill mentions above.

  • Michael Funke (unverified)

    Bend Area Transit (BAT)workers were great at the Bend City Council meeting--eloquently explaining why the city has the moral authority to request that its bus contractor drop its frivilous appeal of the NLRB ruling, recognize the union and bargain in good faith. A majority of Councilors agreed and the city will send a letter to Paratransit, the out of state contractor that gets $100,000 a month from the city to run the bus system, urging them to drop their appeal and move forward. Dozens of BAT workers, family members and supporters from other unjions and the community came to the Council meeting in support of union rights. We don't see a lot of organizing over here and we are very proud of the courageous BAT workers who are demanding dignity and respect in the workplace. --Michael Funke, Central Oregon Jobs with Justice

  • Nina (unverified)

    workers need to have the right to organize and form a union without harassment or threats from their employers. employers have way too many protections today, employees not enough. end of story.

    it is truly a system of slavery when workers wages have stagnated or fallen behind the cost of living while biz profits and owner salaries have increased. my spouses employer offers absolutely no benefits and doesn't pay a living wage. why? according to his own words, so he can put more money into his pocket for his upcoming retirement in 4 years. it is attitudes like that, behaviors resulting, that i oh so wish to see an end to. yesterday!

  • CentralO (unverified)

    I'm glad to know that Ben Westlund wants people to be able to choose a union if they want to. If he wants workers to be able to decide for themselves then he is supporting democracy. Union or not, people should be able to make up their minds in peace and quiet. I like that he is supporting these bills and workers.

  • Eric J. (unverified)

    I worked as a temp at a company that told it's employees three things - 1: What you see out there is public law. We are a private corporation and we are under different guidelines. 2: Because of 1, we are exempt from being unionized because we do not have enough numbers and 3: Unless charges are filed, it is not illegal. Needless to say I did not stay there long, but will there be any counter measures for this in the bills? I worry about some employees with statements like the ones above.

  • Jerry Fletcher (unverified)

    The BAT workers deserve a voice in their workplace and not negligent stalling tactics like the ones that are being used right now. The company lost their objections to the NLRB on March 12th and now they have appealed the wise NLRB ruling. The companies ridiculous and baseless accusations that were submitted where thrown out as they should have been. This wastes taxpayers money and is widely known to union organizers as a way for companies to spend more time coercing their employees to not recognize the union. Labor busting attorneys just grind more money out of the obsolete election system and the employer and employees wind up the loser. In this case the taxpayers wind up the loser as well.

    The Employee Free Choice Act would stop this foolishness and waste of both the NLRB's and City of Bend's time and taxpayer's money. Let me remind all that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to organizing campaigns. Workers collectively band together to improve their workplace and anti-labor attorneys just manipulate the system, stuffing $150-300 an hour in their pockets while workers just want a decent working environment and making just above poverty level wages in this instance.

    Jerry Fletcher Central Oregon Labor Council

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