“Where’s Al?” has been the refrain of the day within the Occupy Princeton movement. Al has driven a TigerTransit bus for almost three years, and was suspended for two days without pay by FirstTransit, which runs the bus system, for running a yellow light. Occupy, however, pointed out that Al had been organizing a vote on whether to unionize his fellow TigerTransit drivers. In an e-mail sent to Occupy members last night, Vahid Brown urged students to take action:
He was told his suspension was for “running a yellow light.” In fact, though, FirstTransit management are well aware of Al’s role in seeking to organize the union and have told other drivers as much in their ongoing efforts to intimidate drivers and discourage them from exercising their legally-protected right to vote on the formation of a union. This retaliation is unacceptable, but we can mobilize to make a difference.
Occupy Princeton leaders went on to encourage students to get in touch with Kim Jackson, Princeton’s director of parking and transportation, and Steven Skoler, general manager of FirstTransit, in order to communicate their support for TigerTransit drivers. According to Brown, over fifty people did so.
Additionally, at least four student activists spent today, the first day of Al’s suspension, riding TigerTransit buses, communicating their support to drivers and distributing “Where’s Al?” fliers.
Although there is no direct evidence that Al’s suspension had anything to do with union organization, one Press Clubber rode the buses this morning and found some drivers to be angry (one called the timing of Al’s suspension “very suspicious”) but also nervous that a driver could be suspended for something that seems so minor. None of the drivers could remember a time when another driver had been suspended, and several said that if the yellow light was used as a pretext to suspend Al, they would feel all the more encouraged to unionize.
Late this afternoon, victory, it seems, was had when Al’s suspension was lifted. Brown sent a congratulatory e-mail to Occupy-ers, saying,
As a loosely-knit group of students who stood up for a member of our community today, we have a lot to be proud of.
Craig Garcia, an organizer with the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU local 108) who is helping the drivers, expressed his thanks for the support of Occupy Princeton, as well as for Skoler’s responsiveness, in a statement. Said Garcia:
We are thrilled that Al has been reinstated, and we are grateful that Steve Skoler acted in a professional and timely manner.
Whether or not the drivers unionize remains a question for the future, but for now, at least one question has been answered. Al’s back.