Bus workers at Georgia Tech ratify contract with First Transit

The iconic Tech Tower on Georgia Tech's campus.. Bus workers at the university have ratified a three-year contract, six months after voting to be represented by the Teamsters.

Credit: Georgia Tech Institute Communications

Credit: Georgia Tech Institute Communications

The iconic Tech Tower on Georgia Tech's campus.. Bus workers at the university have ratified a three-year contract, six months after voting to be represented by the Teamsters.

A group of bus workers at Georgia Tech has voted overwhelmingly to ratify its first collective bargaining agreement, a three-year contract with wage hikes, more time off and increased employer contributions to worker health care, according to the union representing them.

The 36 bus operators and mechanics, who are employees of national transportation company First Transit, are represented by Local 728 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. First Transit, which is based in Illinois, provides Georgia Tech transportation for its students.

Matt Higdon, president of Local 728, called it “a strong first contract that represents the essential nature of their work” in a statement.

First Transit, a national transit company with operations in 43 states and 32,000 workers in bus, shuttles and rail, is owned by Transdev, a purchase completed earlier this year. The company contracts with various institutions to provide services.

A spokesman for Georgia Tech said the school would not comment since it was not directly involved in the contract talks.

In June, the tech drivers voted unanimously to be represented by the Teamsters.

However, that kind of vote by workers to join a union does not guarantee that any negotiations with the employer will produce a contract or any improvement in pay or conditions.

Workers in 370 Starbucks stores, including seven in Georgia, have voted to unionize, some nearly two years ago, according to Starbucks Workers United. However, the Seattle-based coffee giant has not yet agreed to a contract with any of them.

The process of organizing and negotiating a contract has historically been hard in Georgia, like most Southern states, which has a lower share of the workforce represented by unions. The state also has laws that let employees in union shops skip paying union dues, while requiring the union to represent their interests in any dispute.

But with the rise of a new generation of workers and a low-employment labor market in which it has been harder for employers to fill jobs in recent years, unions have become more active. Teamsters Local 728 has added 2,000 members during the past three years, according to Higdon, the local president.

Various unions have been making a renewed push into service industries, as well as eyeing the Georgia economy’s growth in clean energy and electric vehicle manufacturing as potential targets.

Universities have also become the sites of organizing — in both blue-collar and white-collar realms.

Last week, doctoral students at Emory University voted overwhelmingly to join a union.

The students, whose role typically includes teaching as well as study and research, voted 909-73 to be represented by Workers United, which is part of the Service Employees International Union.

Nearly half of Emory’s 16,000 students are in grad school, but the vote affected only the 1,674 who are in the doctoral program.

Union organizers at Emory say they hope to negotiate a contract early in 2024.

The Teamsters also represent more than 100 drivers at Emory, according to Higdon.

This story has been updated to correct the name of the workers’ employer.