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Jan 25

Sentenced Virginia bus crash driver a scapegoat for "sweatshop on wheels"

Transit union says policy makers & carriers are co-conspirators in failure to address driver fatigue as shuttered bus company operates under new name


Media Contacts: David Roscow, 202-537-1645 x 254

 

Washington, DC – The convicted Virginia bus crash driver is a scapegoat for an industry that has become a sweatshop on wheels, says the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) in reaction to yesterday’s sentencing of the driver to 40 years in prison, with 34 years suspended. He was convicted on four counts of involuntary manslaughter in the deadly May 2011 Virginia motorcoach accident that took four lives.

The union says the carriers, federal officials, and Members of Congress should be held responsible for their failure to address driver fatigue, the number one cause of these accidents according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The agency’s report on the Virginia crash cited driver fatigue as the cause of the accident.

“The six years of jail time this bus driver must now serve is making him a scapegoat for an industry that has become a sweatshop on wheels,” says Larry Hanley, international president of ATU, which represents workers at Greyhound and other intercity bus companies. “The unindicted co-conspirators in his conviction are federal agency heads and members of Congress who are turning a blind eye to the carnage on our highways caused by lack of federal regulation of this critical, safety sensitive industry.”

An investigative report by the Charlotte Observer revealed that two other companies with ties to Sky Express, the operator shutdown after the crash, are currently operating out of Charlotte, NC.

U.S. intercity bus deregulation in the 1980s lead to the establishment of countless small, "fly-by-night" bus operations that have been involved in a growing number of fatal accidents.

Hanley says deregulation has allowed operators shutdown by the government to easily and quickly set up shop under a new name.

“All these discount operators have to do is get a new name, new logo, slap a new coat of paint on their buses, and apply for a license to operate and they’re back on the road in no time at all,” says Hanley.

In the U.S., intercity bus drivers are exempt from Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime provisions, which forces them to work second jobs during their “rest period” just to make ends meet. ATU supports the Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sponsored Driver Fatigue Prevention Act, which would ensure that drivers are paid fairly for the work they put in above 40 hours per week, making them less inclined to work other jobs and push their bodies beyond the limits of human endurance.

According to the ATU report Sudden Death Overtime, which highlights the issue of intercity bus accidents, the National Transportation Safety Board estimates that 36 percent of U.S. motorcoach crash fatalities over the past decade have been due to driver fatigue. It is the number one cause of fatal accidents, far above road conditions (2 percent) or inattention (6 percent).

“I am not saying this driver was innocent,” says Hanley, “but there were many hands that caused that wheel to turn and that bus to run off the highway that will remain free while this worker sits in jail. Some are those of company owners but others are government officials who should also be held responsible for the four deaths on that tragic day.”

 

About the ATU

The Amalgamated Transit Union is the largest labor organization representing transit workers in the United States and Canada. Founded in 1892, the ATU today is comprised of over 190,000 members in 264 local unions spread across 44 states and nine provinces, including 3,000 workers at Greyhound Lines, Inc. Composed of bus drivers, light rail operators, maintenance and clerical personnel and other transit and municipal employees, the ATU works to promote transit issues and fights for the interests of its hard-working members.

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