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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 4/15/13

Sweatshops on Wheels

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"The limit is 70, but there are a number of ways the drivers are forced to break the law. The industry is producing more and more crashes. Greyhound has terminals all over the country that cost them money to support. In New York they have to go into the Port Authority with their buses. The Chinatown companies show up and they have no requirements to go into terminals and pay terminal fees. They have no ticket sales because they do it all online. They have no baggage handlers. And they pay people off the books in many cases. People have been caught driving these buses with no license. The buses have caught fire and turned over on the highway. We had an accident in the Bronx a year and a half ago that was so gruesome the first responders needed grief counseling. ... The driver fell asleep. Whenever you hear about one of these buses rolling off the highway I can tell you with 95 percent certainty that the driver fell asleep. And they are falling asleep because they are working long hours."

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, 36 percent of motorcoach crash fatalities over the past decade have been due to driver fatigue. It is the No. 1 cause of fatal accidents, far above road conditions, which account for only 2 percent, or inattention, 6 percent. Legislators, federal agencies and carriers, however, refuse to address the problem of driver fatigue. The ATU is working to push through the Driver Fatigue Prevention Act (S. 487), sponsored by Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, which would ensure that drivers would be paid fairly for the work they perform above 40 hours per week, making them less inclined to work other jobs or otherwise dangerously push themselves at the wheel. But the bill, like most that seek to stem the tide of corporate dominance, is headed into the buzz saw of corporate power.

The only hope, Hanley said, is the creation of rider groups in towns and cities to save public transportation, especially with bus industry deregulation occurring in Canada, where his union represents many thousands of drivers. The union, with 120,000 members, is not strong enough to do it alone, he said. Hanley maintains that communities have to save their public transportation systems because no politician, Republican or Democrat, is prepared to step in and do it for them; the government officials are too beholden to corporate money. But with 10 million riders a day on public buses, Hanley said, there is the potential for organizing, as riders' groups such as Americans for Transit are attempting to do.

Hanley pointed proudly to the union's outreach to community and church groups to save bus service last year in Weston, Wis., a town of 15,000. Weston's Village Council, as part of austerity cuts, had voted to eliminate local bus service. A broad coalition of groups organized to get an advisory vote put on the ballot to block the council's decision. It was the same ballot on which Gov. Scott Walker, a foe of organized labor and a proponent of the austerity cuts, faced recall. Walker won his fight in the state and in Weston to stay in office. But about 65 percent of those who went to the polls in Weston, many of whom voted not to recall Walker, voted to protect their bus service.

"This was not a partisan issue," Hanley said. "It was not about Republican or Democrat, recall or don't recall. It was about the quality of life in our communities. And when we got that message across we won."

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Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

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