SF Ford’s Chariot bus drivers to weigh joining Teamsters union

SF Ford’s Chariot bus drivers to weigh joining Teamsters union
http://www.sfchronicle.com/business/article/Ford-s-Chariot-bus-drivers-t...

By Carolyn SaidApril 17, 2017 Updated: April 17, 2017 4:21pm
Commute-shuttle service Chariot’s 170 San Francisco drivers are considering unionization, following a path laid out by tech company shuttle-bus drivers.

Teamsters Local 665 said a majority of Chariot drivers have signed cards authorizing a vote about union representation. The local filed with the National Labor Relations Board late last week to request an election, which would typically happen within 30 days.

Wages are the biggest issue, said Mark Gleason, secretary-treasurer of the 6,000-member local. “Drivers are telling us anecdotally that pay ranges from $13 an hour, with some lead drivers as high as $21 an hour,” he said. “But full-time, that’s $40,000 (a year) or less, a modest income to pay for shelter and food here where the cost of living is so high.”

San Francisco’s minimum wage is now $13 an hour, but residents have voted to raise it in steps to $15 by 2018.

“These are working-class jobs paying well above the minimum wage,” Chariot CEO Ali Vahabzadeh told The Chronicle in an interview in November, while declining to specify what drivers earn. He said the company has a high retention rate, and works to promote drivers to more-senior positions such as captains, who oversee routes and train new hires. Unlike drivers for ride-hailing services, who work as independent contractors, Chariot shuttle drivers are salaried employees working both full- and part-time.

Chariot’s 150 turquoise vans are a familiar site on San Francisco streets as they ferry thousands of commuters between residential neighborhoods and work centers for about $4 a ride. Ford Motor Co. bought the 2-year-old San Francisco startup in September for an undisclosed amount.

Chariot said it will respond “as appropriate” to the organizing drive.

“Since our inception, Chariot has been committed to delivering competitive wages and benefits, on-the-job training and meaningful career opportunities for our drivers,” it wrote. “Our parent company, Ford Motor Co., has a long history of working together successfully with their represented and non-represented employees around the world and, as part of Ford, we are committed to continuing that tradition.”

One Chariot driver, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, said $13 to $14 an hour is the typical wage. She said the company only last week put portable toilets in the two parking lots for its vehicles. “We still don’t have running water to wash our hands or a break room,” she said.

She hopes for better wages, better working conditions and better health benefits. She described the current health insurance, which only took effect late last year, as “minimal.”

Another driver who also asked for anonymity agreed with those wage estimates. “I don’t think they’ve been fair with the drivers,” he said. “We need a voice with the office.” He agreed that health benefits are lackluster.

Charior confirmed that full-time drivers and “captains” were offered the option to enroll in health benefits by December. It said bathroom facilities were installed soon after a move to a new parking lot.

Chariot is among a range of private commuter services offering alternatives to public transportation. Gleason noted that there’s a huge disparity between public transit wages and those of the private services. Muni drivers make from $21.41 to $33.98 an hour and have benefits including health insurance, paid time off and pensions, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

The Teamsters have recently organized shuttle-bus drivers who work for contractors providing service to companies such as Yahoo, Facebook, Salesforce, Apple, Genentech, eBay and Twitter. About 1,000 Local 665 members are in the transportation industry.

“We believe (private transit) will be a growth industry, expanding rapidly,” Gleason said. “We want to partner with companies doing this type of work.”

Last year Bauer’s Intelligent Transportation, which provides shuttle buses to Zynga, Cisco and Electronic Arts, had a run-in with the local that led to it picketing some shuttles and the SFMTA denying the company a new operating permit. That situation ended with Bauer’s drivers joining the union.

The Teamsters want the SFMTA to apply a “labor harmony” provision to Chariot, which would exert pressure on the commuter service to play nice with unions. That provision already applies to “Google buses,” the generic terms for shuttles to various tech employers, requiring bus companies to develop a planfor avoiding interruptions in service from labor disputes.

“SFMTA is in the processing of developing permit programs for these jitney buses,” said Doug Bloch, Teamsters Joint Council 7 political director. “We think it should include a labor harmony requirement.”

Ford plans to expand Chariot both nationally and internationally as part of the carmaker’s push into different ways of moving people around.

Carolyn Said is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: csaid@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @csaid