The union that represents subway and bus workers has started organizing the tour bus industry in New York City.
Go New York Tours, which has bright green double-decker buses, joined the Transport Works Union Local 100 in April and began negotiations in July. Open Loop New York, whose buses are red, white, and blue, became part of the union on Aug. 21.
"There are a lot of safety violations," said Frank McCann, the union's senior director of organizing, about the two lines. "The potential for disaster is frightening. The industry has to be better regulated."
There are 14 tour bus companies licensed by the Department of Consumer Affairs. Go New York tour guides and drivers want to get stable pay, bathroom and lunch breaks, and buses that aren't taller than DOT requirements. They are also demanding air conditioning and heat during the summer and winter months.
Open Loop workers have better bus conditions than Go New York Tours, but want benefits and higher wages, according to TWU Local 100 officials. "We need a contract," said driver Farai Mudokwani.
The union is now representing about 140 workers at both companies. Fred Pflantzer, a former tour guide for Go New York Tours who said he was laid off for organizing, said employees have to urinate in bottles, work without a functioning audio system, and inhale fumes.
"The conditions of the buses are horrific," said Pflantzer, who has been on buses that have caught on fire. "It's a sweat box, it's chaos. It's like the Titanic."
Go New York Tours and Open Loop did not return calls for comment.
Danny Kaminsky, a 26-year-old tour guide from Brooklyn, was laid off from Go New York Tours last month shortly before union negotiations started. He said he has filed three complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing the company of slashing his pay, harassment, and firing him when he wouldn't work on a bus that was two inches higher than allowed.
"They are violating so many laws," he said. "They treat us like animals."
Go New York Tours is under investigation by the Department of Consumer Affairs, according to spokeswoman Abigail Lootens. The agency has received more than 50 complaints by riders about deceptive practices of the company.
Riders have also posted hundreds of complaints about the company on Trip Advisor's website. They post about fumes that are emitted from the middle of the bus under the passenger seats rather than the bottom of the bus, as well as long waits and baking in the heat.
Sixty-five complaints have also been filed with the Better Business Bureau about Go New York Tours, records show.
On Wednesday, the company was slapped with eight violations by Consumer Affairs for not having working sound equipment.
Union negotiationsbegan in July for Go New York Tours, but broke off after one session. Organizers and workers who took the day off picketed on Friday on 46th Street and 8th Avenue, and leafleted at stops.
"These are issues that are systemic to the industry," Pflantzer added.
The TWU is also considering unionizing other double-decker tour bus companies. The industry has been growing rapidly. There were 230 buses operating in the city at the end of last year. Only 60 tour buses were on the road 10 years before, according to the DCA.
The agency wants to work with the state Department of Transportation to improve oversight of the industry.