A story of how global union solidarity assisted in union organising in North America.
In 2006 the Teamsters Union (in North America) and Unite the Union (in the UK) joined together in a campaign called "Driving Up Standards" (though before 2006 the two unions had worked together less formerly since 1999).
In 1999 FirstGroup, the UK's largest bus and rail operator entered the North American school bus and transit market and with the 2007 acquisition of Laidlaw (also the owner of Greyhound coaches) became the largest school bus operator with 60,000 school buses, 98,000 workers in North America and 37,000 in the UK.
Despite a typical union density in the company in the UK of 95%, the same figure in North America was only 18% and U.S. management fiercely opposed attempts by workers to join a union, using typical union busting tactics.
Working with the former Transport & General Workers Union (T&G merged with Amicus to form Unite the Union) we were able to reach out to the UK community, to UK politicians and UK-based institutional investors. Though there were many parts of the campaign, the most unique component was engaging with the UK intitutional investors, and thanks to the magnificent support of UK-based FirstGroup workers who were both members of the T&G AND shareholders in the company, we were able to run an activist resolution in 2006 and 2007 at the company's annual shareholder meetings.
The outcome was that the company was persuaded to introduce a "Freedom of Association Policy" in North America which guaranteed workers the right to choose whether or not to join a union without management interference and also a "Compliance Monitoring Program" which enforced the oversight of the policy with an independent monitor.
Since 2006, over 25,000 FirstGroup America workers have joined the Teamsters, making them the largest union in the company with over 37,000 members and lifting the union density (at the Teamsters alone) in the school bus section to 48%.
None of this would have been possible without international solidarity which went far beyond the usual situation of messages of solidarity but was grounded on positive action and included the work of capital strategies - at the time the resolutions were thought to be the first example in the UK of workers successfully using their shareholdings to place a resolution on a shareholder meeting agenda.
So many people were involved apart from Unite the Union, I fear I will miss someone out, but included the ITF, other UK unions like RMT, ASLEF, TSSA, GMB, the TUC, Australian and New Zealand unions, UK national politicians, socially responsible institutional investors, rank and file union members and working men and women.
The campaign continues as we seek to move on to other school bus companies, with the second largest also being a UK-based company, National Express. We aim to create an international movement of school bus and transit workers.
I hope this assists your discussion.