USC bus drivers hold a rally to fight for higher wages

Chants of “Si, se puede” rang through the crowd as bus drivers march to unionize.

Around 30 drivers hold purple signs that say "union yes!" while wearing purple shirts and a big sign that says "Next Stop: USC Shuttle driver union!"

Around 30 USC bus drivers and supporters marched from the USC Dworak-Peck School of Social Work to Tommy Trojan on the morning of February 28.

Their reasoning? A union for better wages and working conditions.

USC bus drivers are among the lowest paid in Los Angeles. Their wages start at $18 an hour, whereas less than 20 miles away, unionized UCLA drivers start at $22.74 an hour. Unionized drivers at Los Angeles International Airport also earn more, making up to $39.34 an hour.

A USC bus driver who asked for anonymity due to fear of retribution thinks $24 an hour is reasonable. “The cost of living keeps going up and up. We can’t survive. I feel uncertain because I know they don’t want a union, but we need this. USC has money. They have big money. Why can’t they give us a piece of it?”

USC bus drivers provide essential transportation to students, faculty, staff and other university guests to and from USC’s main campus. These routes stretch across multiple cities, from L.A. to Alhambra, and span from L.A. Union Station all the way to Marina del Rey.

At the rally, chants of “What do we want? Justice!” and “Si, se puede,” echoed as bus drivers dressed in purple and yellow walked around campus stopping at the statue of Tommy Trojan to share their message. Several of them held signs that said “union yes!” with a bus on a purple background.

But it wasn’t just bus drivers at the rally.

“The school has way too much money not to be treating its workers with respect,” said USC student Owen Ramsby. “They’re the ones that make the school run and they deserve respect, better wages, benefits, all that. So we’re going to do what we can to support them.”

Trojan Left, a student organization interested in making radical change at USC, spoke out in favor of the drivers. One of their representatives, Lili Adkins, attended the rally.

“We know that as USC students, we have a lot of privilege and leverage in what the university decides to do in terms of the union,” said Adkins, a sophomore majoring in history. “I hope that it can have a wider impact on USC by discouraging their union-busting practices so that all workers at USC can get the wages and rights that they deserve.”

This effort comes after drivers filed their intent to form a union with the National Labor Relations Board on February 6. If USC drivers are able to become unionized, they could negotiate higher wages and fight to improve the conditions of their workplace. If successful, the drivers will be represented by SEIU 721, an organization that “represents the county and city employees across Southern California.”

“We are getting folks to support the shuttle [bus] drivers here,” said Felipe Caceres, a coordinator from SEIU 721. “So what we’re looking for and asking for the USC community, is to support these drivers and their right to a union.”

The 30 to 35 current USC bus drivers will have the opportunity to vote on whether they should unionize on March 23.

USC opposes the unionization effort saying, “We value our shuttle drivers and the important work they do for the university. 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. We do not believe they need a third party to speak for them,” said a statement released to Annenberg Media. “That said, we respect our drivers’ right to decide for themselves whether or not they wish to have a union represent them, and this decision should be made through the election scheduled for March 23.”

In a press release issued by Tim Sandoval, communications specialist at SEIU, Sonia Olivarez, a USC bus driver said, “USC President Carol Folt needs to know that we emphatically support joining SEIU Local 721 to finally have a strong voice on the job to advocate for ourselves and our passengers. We’re fed up with being underpaid and undervalued despite our critical role in keeping students, staff, faculty and visitors moving.”