Spite the power

By CHRIS FARAONE  |  May 11, 2009

"It was like everybody was already splitting a welfare check," says Peace Boston founder Cindy Diggs. "And the way things are looking now, most of that welfare check might not even be there next year."

Asleep at the wheel
As it turns out, cokeheads and degenerate gamblers are not the only ones driving back and forth to Mohegan Sun on a quarter tank of sleep. According to the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA) — which is fronted by long-time community organizer Lydia Lowe — overworked, underpaid bus drivers who push steel for the Chinatown-based Sunshine Travel bus line are far exceeding legal 10-hour drive-time limits.

At high noon this past Thursday, Lowe and about 100 other labor-rights activists circled beneath the Chinatown Gate on Beach Street, where — with help from translators — speakers detailed Sunshine work conditions for reporters and passers-by. According to former employee Darian Chen — and a CPA press statement— drivers are regularly required to work excessive overtime for no extra pay, to reimburse expensive bus repairs out of pocket, and to adjust travel logs to conceal illegalities. Retribution for dissent, Chen claims, is the loss of shifts, which currently pay $95 a day before taxes.

Though Sunshine did not return phone and e-mail inquiries for this story, the charter company has not completely ignored allegations. Owner Lorraine Tse brought a defamation lawsuit against the CPA for circulating libelous propaganda — and publicly denied all wrongdoing — but a civil-court judge ruled that protesters could resume their course of action if they remove Sunshine logos from their literature. "We just want to sit down and resolve this matter," says Lowe. "But the owner has once again taken an aggressive stance."

Employee advocates charge that Tse took a similarly elusive line in 2004, when a Sunshine driver hit and killed a 67-year-old man near Mohegan Sun, and again this past January, when a casino-bound bus driving in a day-long snowstorm plowed through a Massachusetts Turnpike guardrail and landed five passengers in the hospital.

"It's outrageous how [Sunshine] doesn't care that cumulative fatigue leads to accidents," retired-Teamster- trucker-turned-labor-leader Bob Burns belted through his bullhorn. "And why are they paying for their own repairs? What the hell is insurance for?"

Free radicals
In some countries outside the United States, May Day means more than just "jump ship." Throngs of revelers in England, Greece, and Sweden take to the streets every May 1, drinking and dancing around large decorative poles. Even in Cuba — where "workers' rights" is an oxymoron — celebrations attract thousands to downtown Havana.

Volunteers with the Boston May Day Coalition (BMDC) believe that Massachusetts workers deserve more, so this past Friday— for the fourth year in a row — they united labor-rights groups to march from East Boston to Chelsea and Everett.

The scene was a Jay Severin nightmare, with immigrants of all stripes emerging from the Maverick Square T station and forming steady streams of picket signs jousting down Bowdoin Street toward Central Square. Men in camouflage slung socialist newspapers; organized anarchists snarled like South Park goths; and lefties kept the communist-book table busy. Even as it began to drizzle — and with the ink on their pro-labor signs starting to run — the radicals soldiered on. One fearless young man even managed to hand-roll a cigarette.

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Related: Boston activists infiltrate bankers' convention, Young activists explore police department, Who killed Daddy Black?, More more >
  Topics: News Features , Cindy Diggs, Tom Menino, Jay Severin,  More more >
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