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Sunshine Special

Sleepy Santa Cruz gets Organized

UTU Local 23 was organized in 1980 and represents the bus Drivers at the *Santa Cruz Metro Transit District.hands logoBefore joining the UTU in 1980 the drivers had been organized as an independent association.

That drivers association began in 1976, mostly at the behest of the management so that there would be an employee organization to sign a 13C agreement with the *UMTA (Urban Mass Transportation Administration, now the FTA) people.

A 13C agreement is required to gain federal grants, and is one of the relics of the influence of organized labor in the 1960's. 13C is under heavy attack by the new unpublican revolutionaries.

Interestingly, a little experience of democracy produces an appetite for it. The bus drivers got used to the notion of actually having rights to at least being consulted. There was talk of affiliating with a real Union over those 4 years, but residual resistance from some drivers resulted in deferral of a choice. Consensus had not arrived.

In 1980 we were having greater difficulty in getting the respect that we regarded as our due as working Americans and decided to get more serious about things like bargaining, contracts, and the like. There was a large increase in the number of drivers that winter (1979-1980) with the arrival of many new busses and funding for them but the management wasn't ready to run this larger organization. About 20 new drivers were instructed to bid for full time runs in December 1979 and they did so.

The company was unable to get the fleet ready and those 20 drivers were then told that they would not get the runs that they bid upon and would remain part-time until the District decided to assign them runs.

This was the catalyst that produced an activist workforce and it was a very interesting thing to be involved in. We filed a grievance under the weak agreement that we had at the time, but concerted refusal to cooperate by the majority of the workforce was what was really important. The company eventually agreed to guarantee the new employees the hours of the original bids until they could get the equipment running. This was our first victory for collective action which whetted our appetite for justice.

After this we interviewed the three main Transit Unions, *Amalgamated Transit Union, *Transport Workers Union, and the United Transportation Union. We were looking for an organization that would help us channel our power, not take us over and provide paternalistic services.

We chose to affiliate with the UTU as they promised us our own local and considerable autonomy. The UTU also has a strong legislative department, with each state having an elected Legislative Board and a State Director who serves as a lobbyist to the legislature and representative to the State Government.

We actually ended up going on strike in that year of 1980, the first public employee strike in the county. We remained on strike for 19 days and wrought a wholesale change in working practices and rights on the job.

We'll be working on a page about the Great Transit Strike  someday. Meanwhile, here is a picture taken at a rally in Harvey West park during the strike of 1980. Strike rally


Public Transit descends from the Railway Barons

The Bus Department was originally a part of the Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen. The largest General Committee in the Bus Department in the UTU is the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority, formerly known as RTD.

The MTA drivers were BRT represented for years before the creation of the UTU because they were originally railroad employees.

Many city bus lines came into existence around the country when railroads discontinued commuter rail services. Freight became more profitable than passenger service.

The former private commuter railroads set up bus lines which themselves became uneconomic.

To prevent the collapse of mass transit, governments started buying out the private City Bus lines. San Francisco nationalized the 'Municipal Railway' shortly after WWII.

Most City bus lines around the country had become publicly owned by the beginning of the 1970's with assistance from the Federal Government authorized by the Urban Mass Transportation Act.


The UTU represents mostly railroad workers. The United part of the name is not meant to represent the department of redundancy department.

There were originally four railroad brotherhoods who merged in 1969 to form this larger union, hence, a United Union.

The crafts on the railroad which are usually represented by the UTU are the conductors (formerly the BRT, Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen), the Switchmen (formerly the SUNA, Switchmens Union of North America), the Firemen (formerly the BLF&E, or the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Engineers) and the Brotherhood of Conductors and Brakemen.

*Eugene V. Debs was a member of the BLF&E, three times a candidate for US President of the
*Socialist party.

*Debs also founded the ARU, the American Railwaymens Union which was an early attempt to form a unified organization for all the railroad workers. It was crushed by the US army in the Pullman strike in the 1890's.

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name: about_local23.html
created: February 1997
modified:  Friday, 04-May-2007 12:11:24 PDT