High-Tech Challenges Under the Hood

When Mark Clark began working in Greyhound garages during the 1980s, the job was almost all mechanical and basic electrical. And then things got interesting.

“During the early 1990s, DDEC and ECM technology changed the way we work, and now we must keep up with Multiplex, Cadec, Wi-fi and much, much more,” said Clark, who represents mechanics on the ATU Local 1700 Executive Board.

Greyhound is counting on new technology to help revive intercity bus travel. Servicing a fleet of new vehicles clearly requires fresh skills, but Clark said the company has been cutting back on mechanics and training.

“Just when I thought Greyhound couldn’t downsize Maintenance anymore,” he said, “they close the St. Louis and Louisville garages. It makes me wonder what direction they’re taking our department.”

Local 1700 President Bruce Hamilton said companies downsize whenever they can save money.

“When deregulation allowed Greyhound to get rid of unprofitable routes, they reduced their rolling stock and were able to cut maintenance facilities,” Hamilton said. “And when we were on strike in 1990 and didn’t have a collective bargaining agreement in place to prevent subcontracting, they contracted out all cleaning and other maintenance work, leaving only drivers and mechanics on the payroll.”

Routes stabilized somewhat during the mid-1990s and early 2000s. Greyhound (then owned by Laidlaw) began downsizing even more aggressively in 2004, when the company emerged from bankruptcy. Nearly 40% of drivers and a third of maintenance workers were eliminated.

Other factors behind reduced maintenance include improved tires and other bus components, and the resulting ability to stretch out oil changes, lubrication and other regularly scheduled work.

Hamilton said he isn’t sure if the company has reduced training because of tight budgets or because they don’t see an urgent need. In either case, he suspects, “failing to properly train mechanics will end up costing the company more in lost productivity and equipment failures.”

Local 1700 has negotiated paid training for maintenance workers, including a provision allowing employees in lower classifications to qualify for better jobs. Greyhound also expressed interest recently in a union proposal to establish a partnership under the auspices of the national Transportation Learning Center to provide subsidized training for mechanics.

“The company can begin by complying with training provisions in our contract,” Clark said. “Management should consult with the union to make sure training opportunities are done fairly before rolling them out, and they should be offered to everyone so garage managers don’t just pick and choose who they want to advance.”

“Mechanics and drivers are in this fight together,” Hamilton added. “We cannot achieve our overall goals for effectively representing Greyhound employees at work and at the bargaining table without strong participation by maintenance.”