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USC workers urge school officials to refrain from anti-union tactics

USC shuttle drivers and dispatchers who claim they’re grossly underpaid are urging school officials to refrain from anti-union tactics as they prepare to vote on whether to join SEIU Local 721.

On Feb. 6, a majority of the school’s 30 shuttle drivers and two dispatchers filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to hold a union election, which is set for March 23. They claim USC managers have sent deceptive emails to the workers with anti-union messages.

Drivers also fear school officials may start holding “captive audience” meetings to spread misinformation and dissuade them from voting to unionize.

They plan to stage a rally at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28 outside the USC Dworak-Peck School of Social Work to call for a “fair, open and clean union election” for shuttle drivers and dispatchers that’s free of interference and union-busting tactics by school administrators and managers.

The workers expect to be joined by a coalition of students, labor allies and community members.

“We’re fed up with being underpaid and undervalued despite our critical role in keeping students, staff, faculty and visitors moving,” shuttle driver Sonia Olivarez said in a statement.

Olivarez said USC President Carol Folt needs to know the workers “emphatically support” joining SEIU Local 721 to have a stronger voice on the job and better advocate for themselves and their passengers.

USC responds

In a statement issued Monday, USC Auxiliary Services said it values shuttle drivers and the work they perform.

“We also value the direct, collegial and cooperative relationship we have with our drivers and our ability to flexibly and directly respond to their concerns and needs as they arise,” the department said. “We do not believe they need a third party to speak for them.”

Still, USC said it respects the drivers’ right to decide whether they wish to have a union represent them.

USC shuttle drivers start at $18 an hour, considerably less than unionized drivers at UCLA, who earn a starting wage of $22.74 an hour and top out at $30.58 an hour.

Unionized drivers at Los Angeles International Aiport earn even more, with a maximum hourly wage of $39.34.

SEIU Local 721 notes that other area shuttle drivers also receive periodic bonuses, something they say USC drivers don’t get.

SEIU Local 721 mini bus drivers in Riverside negotiated and won a $10,000 cash bonusin 2022, for example, while Gold Coast Transit drivers in Ventura County start off at $22.51 an hour with every driver set to receive a 3% raise on June 25.

“USC shuttle drivers currently do not have the power to negotitate bonuses,” the union said.

In a posting on SEIU’s website, USC shuttle drivers said they work as “at will” employees who can be let go at any time for any reason or no reason, with no recourse for unfair situations.

“In other words, we cannot fight back against unjust discipline,” the drivers say.

What the drivers and dispatchers hope to gain through unionization:

Higher wages
The ability to negotiate union contracts that win improvements to shifts, workloads and health and retirement benefits
Grievance and arbitration procedures to enforce union contracts and provide fair appeal procedures for employee discipline

In a recent interview posted on USC Annenberg Media, shuttle driver Chris Harris, bemoaned the wages he and his colleagues earn.

“We are one of the lowest paid companies as far as transportation,” he said.

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