Howard County bus drivers employed by Zūm Student Transportation Services have filed with the National Labor Relations Board seeking a vote on union representation, according to the local union representatives.
Zūm, a Silicon Valley-based contractor who took over about half of Howard County school bus routes this year, was at the center of a fiasco at the beginning of the school year that left 54 busloads of kids and their families to figure out a way to school on their own during the first week of classes.
The company, which signed a three-year, $27 million contract with the Howard County Public School System in February, couldn’t find enough local drivers to cover its 230 bus routes by the first day of school and flew in about 70 bus drivers from Washington state. But on the first day of school, about 20 drivers didn’t show up for work, causing a cascade of problems. Many families reported their children’s buses running as much as an hour behind schedule in the first weeks of the academic year. Zūm blamed the county school system, in part, for failing to provide updated route information.
The problems were eventually resolved, with Zūm reporting “nearly 100% on-time pick-up performance” in early October. But enough of the company’s drivers, aides and monitors have now expressed interest in joining the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1994 Municipal and County Government Employees Organization (MCGEO) and are seeking a vote.
In September, Zūm employees met with MCGEO and expressed interest in unionizing, according to a statement from the union.
“These dedicated employees have ideas on how to improve the system so they can better serve residents of Howard County,” said Raymun Lee, Organizing Director for MCGEO, in a press release.
“It is of the utmost importance that their voices be heard and that they have a seat at the table with their employer. Zum worksites in other states are unionized or voting to unionize. It’s time to ensure Zum’s employees in Maryland have those same rights.”
MCGEO represents bus drivers in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia. The local union currently represents drivers for Ride-On in Montgomery County and the Student Transportation Association in Annapolis.
“Our goal is to be the choice employer in the region,” said Vivek Garg, co-founder and COO at Zūm. Garg pointed to Zūm’s competitive salary and benefits as steps his company has taken to make that goal a reality. ”So our job is to be the choice employer. What drivers do with, you know, union or nonunion, that is their prerogative.”
Garg said that his company currently has 271 drivers employed in Howard County.
Daniel Zawodny contributed reporting.