Schumer Bill Would Extend Overtime Pay to Over-the-Road Bus Drivers

NTSB warns of curbside carriers’ crash risk

Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) has introduced legislation to include Greyhound drivers under overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Schumer’s “Driver Fatigue Prevention Act” would eliminate the little-known exemption for owners of intercity bus lines. It could be included in the massive Surface Transportation Act that Congress will debate this coming spring.

Meanwhile, a new report by the National Transportation Safety Board documents how deregulating the bus industry has been a disaster for highway safety. The NTSB studied collision rates and found that discount carriers paying substandard wages are five times more likely to crash than conventional carriers like Greyhound.

The NTSB recently identified driver fatigue as the leading cause of fatal bus crashes. The Board blamed driver fatigue for 36% of fatal crashes that it studied over the past decade, far above road conditions (2%) or inattention (6%). It listed fatigue on its “Most Wanted List of Safety Improvements,” and called for stronger oversight of curbside buses.

The two NTSB reports add urgency to the ATU highway safety campaign. Drivers for intercity carriers typically work more than 100 hours a week, but don't get overtime pay for work exceeding 40 hours per week, as 85% of Americans do under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Current law encourages intercity carriers to operate sweatshops on wheels. Congress can begin to clean up the industry by ending the FLSA exemption. Drivers who are paid fairly are less inclined to work second jobs and push their bodies beyond safe limits. “Safety starts with reasonable rules that protect drivers and the public,” Hamilton said.

During 2011, Local 1700 worked with other intercity ATU locals to circulate our “Sudden Death Overtime” paper and make our case to Congress to end the FLSA exclusion of over-the-road drivers. We paid particular attention to Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who listened politely, but declined to amend his legislation.

Hamilton said the best chance for action will be when the Surface Transportation Act is up for renewal this spring. It won’t be easy, he added. “Congress won’t step on the bus companies’ toes if they can avoid it. That’s why we must redouble our lobbying and target the committees that handle transportation issues. We must insist that they represent the interests of the 99% for a change.”

The only way to win overtime protection, he said, is old-fashioned political action. “Greyhound has their paid lobbyists knocking on doors, but we have the majority of the population on our side.”

The best way for Local 1700 member to mobilize that grassroots strength and support labor- friendly candidates for office is by increasing our contributions to the union’s political action committee, ATU-COPE. Attend your union meetings for more details about this urgent action plan, or contact your steward or VP to get involved.