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Tech shuttle companies hire replacements for union bus drivers — who haven’t voted to strike

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Members of the Teamsters Union on Thursday Aug. 23 staged a protest to call attention to a labor dispute with corporate shuttle companies WeDriveU and Hallcon Transport, formerly Loop. (Courtesy Teamsters)

It’s a common — though controversial — tactic for companies in labor disputes to hire non-union “scabs” to replace striking workers.

But in a twist, tech shuttle companies this week began training replacement bus drivers amid heated negotiations with the Teamsters Local 853 without any strike on the horizon, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

The Teamsters allege this is a violation of “labor harmony” provisions in the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency commuter shuttle permit program, which could lead to the shuttle companies’ ouster from the program.

“This is really extraordinary considering the members have not voted to strike,” said Doug Bloch, political director of Teamsters Joint Council 7, which represents 100,000 members across Northern California, the Central Valley and northern Nevada.

The two shuttle companies in question are WeDriveU and Hallcon Transport, formerly Loop, which ferry workers for Facebook, Tesla, Amazon, Electronic Arts, LinkedIn and Apple, among other tech giants.

Negotiations with the two shuttle companies began in February with the union’s request for pensions instead of a 401(k) plan, driver wage increases and retroactive pay raises for the 600 members all on the table, according to the Teamsters.

Teamsters members allied with bus drivers, but not the drivers themselves, picketed tech shuttles in the Castro District last week to call attention to the dispute.

On August 13 WeDriveU presented its “last, best and final offer,” said Tim Wayland, chief operating officer of WeDriveU, in a statement, which includes a $29,000 contribution to drivers’ 401(k) plans over a four-year contract with matching pre-tax contributions.

Members have voted down those offers, the Teamsters said.

“They’re driving for contractors of some of the wealthiest companies in the world: Apple, Facebook, and others,” Bloch said, when commenting on the proposals. “Cost is not the question here.”

With talks ongoing, WeDriveU and Hallcon Transport brought in 50-60 non-union bus drivers this week. Those drivers wore yellow safety jackets bearing the words “strike relief,” which were verified through photos sent to the Examiner.

Hallcon did not respond to requests for comment. WeDriveU confirmed the workers were hired.

“Knowing that thousands of employees rely on us for their ride to work, we have begun to train qualified replacement drivers should it be necessary to cover commuting services,” Wayland said. “Their services will not be necessary if the Teamsters holds a vote and our employees agree to the proposed contract.

Labor harmony provisions for commuter shuttle operators passed by the Board of Supervisors in 2015 require good standing with unions, a provision the SFMTA previously cited to oust Bauer’s Intelligent Systems in 2016 during a dispute with the Teamsters.

The SFMTA was unaware of the dispute with WeDriveU and Hallcon Tuesday, but Bloch said he would notify SFMTA, the Board of Supervisors and Mayor London Breed of the dispute Wednesday morning.

“I can’t think of any way this meets the definition of labor harmony,” Bloch said.

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