Somali and Oromo bus drivers have filed charges against two Twin Cities bus companies, claiming management discriminated against them and illegally fired them.
The workers held a news conference Friday to announce the charges filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the National Labor Relations Board against Monarch Bus Services and the Minneapolis and Suburban Bus Company.
“As citizens, we have the right to voice our concerns and complain to any company that is violating the laws of the United States of America,” said Mahmud Kanyare, the leader of the group of about 15 drivers who call themselves The United Community of Drivers.
The workers say the companies discriminated against them by assigning them buses that were in disrepair and lacked heat, while white drivers were given better buses. They said the companies arbitrarily reduced their hours and failed to pay them for some of the time worked.
"This appears to be a clear case of discrimination based upon ethnicity," said Ellen Longfellow, a civil rights attorney with the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Frustrated in their attempts to present their complaints to ownership, the workers walked off the job in January and were then fired, they said. Although all are now working other jobs, they said they would like to return to bus driving and improve conditions at their former workplace.
Mohamed Ali, a bus driver for more than two years, said workers would like their concerns addressed so no one is treated “like a second-class citizen.”
Several charges are in the process of being filed with the EEOC, Longfellow said. They allege discrimination based on ethnicity.
In addition, the group alleges the firings were illegal under the National Labor Relations Act, which protects workers when they take action as a group – whether or not they are represented by a labor union. The workers are awaiting a ruling from the regional office of the NLRB, which has already conducted interviews, Longfellow said.
If the NRLB upholds their case as an illegal lockout, they could be returned to their jobs.
Following the news conference, Monarch Bus Service and Minneapolis & Suburban Bus Company issued a statement calling the drivers’ claims “completely unfounded.”
It noted, in part, “Our two companies employ more than 175 employees of Somali heritage at all levels of the company, and we are actively hiring more. We enjoy a good relationship with those employees and the Somali community as a whole.”
The company said the drivers stopped working “by their own choice” and were not locked out, adding “. . . we are confident we will prevail when all of the facts are revealed in this matter and will vigorously defend our reputations against these unfounded claims.”
The drivers' news conference was held at the Minneapolis office of CAIR, the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. CAIR has been active in assisting workers facing job discrimination and other problems.