Panther Express shuttle drivers are requesting higher wages and said they are likely to protest unless negotiations bring the desired increases.
The driver’s union contract – the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) – expires in April and covers wages and benefits. The CBA is under negotiation between MV Transportation, the company subcontracting drivers to Georgia State, and Teamsters 728, the union representing those drivers.
Panther Express operators currently make $12 per hour after training and have a commission cap set at $15.20 an hour.
In his seven years of driving Panther Express shuttles, Raymond Agard has driven every campus route and has gotten to know many of the students on campus. He makes the maximum salary amount, but the 72-year-old said his pay is not a livable wage.
“We would like to have an increase because the cost of living is going up and, as operators, we don’t think that we’re being paid at the right rate,” Agard said. “The cost of living keeps rising, but our salary is stagnant.”
Agard said his co-workers have gradually been leaving the job, because they cannot live on the salary. Many of them, he said, became bus operators for Marta. According to glassdoor.com, Marta bus operators make an average of $16.96 per hour.
“The other bus companies start at much more and you don’t have to go around the route as often,” Agard said. “Our shuttles are constantly going around with only a few minutes break to go to the bathroom. It’s hard. A lot of the drivers here are going to MARTA because they can make $4 more and that’s a lot of money, that’s a meal.”
Jeffery Davis, general manager of MV Transportation, said the comparison between MARTA and Panther Express is a faulty one.
“We’re not a transit company, we run shuttles,” Davis said. “MARTA is a public transit so they’re paid a lot more under a contract with the city.”
Agard said Georgia State “would probably push to add a percentage more onto our salary” if students showed the university that the shuttle drivers are providing good quality service.
“We’ve been saying ‘OK let’s accept what we have right now’, we’ve been living in hope, hoping that one day they’ll say ‘let’s increase their salary’,” Agard said. “To have the students’ support would mean a lot. It would mean the students care.”
Chris Connelly, director of Marketing and Operations for Campus Services at Georgia State, said that any outcry from the student body may be aimless, because the university “does not have any power over drivers’ salaries.”
“We don’t employ them, we employ MV, so it’s up to MV how they pay their employees,” Connelly said. “It’s a mischaracterization to say the only way the drivers can get more money is if the university gives MV more money. We’re not involved directly with paying the drivers, so we’re not actually at the table.”
Georgia State’s contract with MV Transportation is a 10-year agreement with one-year renewables that started in July 2013. The contract is separate from the CBA, and Connelly said any expectation for university involvement would be a “misunderstanding of the roles.”
“I understand why they would want to put pressure on all sides, but we’re not the pressure point that’s going to make the change,” Connelly said. “It’s total speculation to comment on what would happen if we were to say ‘MV, pay your people more money’. We would be going out of the normal confines of our role.”
Ben Speight, organizing director for Teamsters 728, said a stipulation should be added to MV’s contract with Georgia State requiring any transportation contractor at the university to pay a living wage. He added that without “such basic worker and human rights” the drivers are being treated like “second-class citizens.”
“The problem is that one reason why they outsource employees to begin with is to try to get companies to compete for work by offering the services at the lowest cost,” Speight said. “The way to achieve the lowest cost is to suppress wages, suppress benefits. Where is the consideration for the workers?”
Speight said the backing of the student body, such as calling on University President Mark Becker, could make the drivers’ request a reality. He said if operators’ pay does not increase, “the next step would be to reach out to the university in the form of a protest.” Agard agreed that is a possibility.
Like Connelly, Davis also said Georgia State has no role in the CBA’s negotiation, and that the drivers are “putting on a show.” He said the operators’ choice to reach out to The Signal about the issue is unprofessional and unfair to students.
“That is a great way to lose a contract,” Davis said. “They’re trying to make it look like the university is not doing their part and MV is just one of those low-wage companies, but that’s not the case at all.”
Because the negotiations are private and ongoing, Davis said he could not comment on the likelihood of pay increases. He said part of the negotiation will be determining whether or not pay increases are within the budget.
“Georgia State has a set rate that they pay. We can only request so much,” Davis said. “The union has a say-so as far as what the raises would be, so we can sit down at the table and they can present whatever they want and we can say what we’ll go with.”
Speight and Agard met with students at the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) town hall on Feb. 2 and plan to have another meeting with students, before their contract expires to gather support.
The agreement settled upon during MV and Teamsters’ negotiations next month will be in effect for the next three years.